CORRECTION: The original version of this story misquoted Grover Norquist. He said repatriation would bring $6 billion to $800 billion back.
While other Washington insiders are wringing their hands over the lack of action expected on Capitol Hill in this election year, Grover Norquist is studying his color-coded maps. The antitax advocate and president of Americans for Tax Reform is taking the long view on Congress and charting the ways that Republicans could eventually control the House, Senate, and White House, along with statehouses across the country (all while making sure politicians adhere to his antitax pledge).
“The context for the next 12 months is that 2011 was supposed to be the ‘Year of the Tax Increase’—you know, like the ‘Year of the Woman’ or the ‘Year of the Dragon,’ ” he says with a smirk. But, last year was not marked by tax hikes at all, thanks to congressional gridlock and the failures of various deficit-reduction efforts. For Norquist, that means 2012 could practically be a vacation, or at least a fun year of dreaming about future slashes in marginal rates. He recently spoke to National Journal. Edited excerpts from the interview follow.
NJ What are the major points of tax policy you’re looking at this year?
NORQUIST Even Obama is not going to want to raise taxes, because it’s an election year. He came up with this idea for the one-year tax holiday so he could claim that he’s for a tax cut. Mind you, it’s a temporary tax cut, but he does not want to run as a tax increaser. I think we’re in reasonably good shape.
Between now and November, I believe we will see a one-year extension of the FICA tax [cut]. I believe we will see the extension of [the break on] depreciation spending. And then the third one that you could have is repatriation. If I was Obama’s political consultant, I’d have put repatriation on the table when he extended the Bush-era tax cuts by two years [in 2010]. The estimates are that it would bring $6 [billion] to $800 billion back. If I were president, I would love to have that money flow back into the real economy, not the Solyndra economy, the year before I’m running for office.
NJ At the end of 2012, a number of major tax provisions, including the Bush-era cuts, are set to expire. Do you have any predictions?
NORQUIST We’re focused on the fact that there is this Damocles sword hanging over people’s head. What you don’t know is who will be in charge when all of this will happen. I think when we get through this election cycle, we’ll have a Republican majority, [though] not necessarily a strong majority in the Senate, and a majority in the House. The majority in the House will continue to be a Reagan majority, a conservative majority. Boehner never has to talk his delegation going further to the right.
If the Republicans have the House, Senate, and the presidency, I’m told that they could do an early budget vote—a reconciliation vote where you extend the Bush tax cuts out for a decade or five years. You take all of those issues off the table, and then say, “What do you want to do for tax reform?”
Then, the question is: “OK, what do we do about repatriation and all of the interesting stuff?” And, if you have a Republican president to go with a Republican House and Senate, then they pass the [Paul] Ryan plan [on Medicare].
NJ What if the Democrats still have control? What’s your scenario then?
NORQUIST Obama can sit there and let all the tax [cuts] lapse, and then the Republicans will have enough votes in the Senate in 2014 to impeach. The last year, he’s gone into this huddle where he does everything by executive order. He’s made no effort to work with Congress.
NJ The Republicans seem more divided over tax policy than in the past. The House Republicans didn’t want to pass the payroll-tax holiday bill, even though that was a tax cut. Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania proposed revenue increases as a super-committee member. Do you think the party is in disarray over its take on taxes?
NORQUIST Those are different things. Toomey is deciding on which unicorn he’d like if unicorns existed, and you’re asking me if I’m unhappy about his choice of a pet? There aren’t any unicorns. The Democrats are not going to make permanent what they said was their nonnegotiable plan for a 25 percent corporate and individual tax rate. The Democratic Party cannot physiologically do that.
NJ So you don’t get mad when Republicans propose tax increases if you feel they won’t come to fruition?
NORQUIST There’s no point in spending any time getting too worked up on imaginary conversations about imaginary things. The disarray you had was the House and the Senate being on different rhythms, and the House not understanding that anyone would lie so completely about what they’d just done.
This article appears in the January 28, 2012, edition of National Journal Magazine.