Read My Lips: No New Taxes

Grover Norquist
New York Times

THE Taxpayer Protection Pledge has received increased attention as the Aug. 2 deadline for raising the debt ceiling approaches. My organization, Americans for Tax Reform, created the pledge in 1986 as a simple, written commitment by a candidate or elected official that he or she will oppose, and vote against, tax increases. Over the years many candidates and elected officials have signed the pledge, including 236 current members of the House of Representatives and 41 current senators.

Nevertheless, there is some confusion these days about what the pledge does and doesn’t mean, and numerous people have tried to reconfigure its intent to somehow allow its signatories to support tax increases. But in fact the pledge has not changed — indeed, fiscal conservatives must stick to their commitment to oppose tax increases and fight to reduce the size of the federal government.

There have been four main challenges to the pledge and what it means. The first is to charge that it gets in the way of a deal to allow a debt ceiling increase. But that’s not the case at all. John A. Boehner, the speaker of the House, has repeatedly stated that the House would grant the president a debt ceiling increase of $2.5 trillion if Mr. Obama would sign a deal to reduce government spending from his planned levels by the same amount or more.

The problem to be solved is not the deficit; it is overspending. Federal spending in the 2008 fiscal year was $2.9 trillion, and Washington will now spend $3.8 trillion in the fiscal year that ends on Sept. 30. Raising taxes is what politicians do instead of reforming and reducing the cost of government. Advocates of larger government prefer to talk about deficits rather than spending. Why? Because there are two solutions to a deficit problem: spend less or raise taxes. The issue, in other words, isn’t the pledge; it’s Washington’s inability to deal with its own overspending. There is only one fix for a spending problem: spend less.

Another challenge has been to suggest that members of Congress had somehow made a pledge to Americans for Tax Reform, or even to me personally, and that therefore it should be no big deal if they broke their commitments. Nonsense. The pledge clearly states that the commitment is to the people of their states and the nation. During the last election cycle those people elected a majority of the House who have made this commitment to their constituents.

Others have tried to redefine “tax increase,” specifically by arguing that eliminating a tax credit, exclusion or deduction in order to rake in more tax revenue should not count as a tax hike. The theory is that any dollar the government failed to take from you in taxes had in fact been given to you in a spending program. By this reasoning, the deduction-killing Alternative Minimum Tax is not a tax hike — a cruel joke on the millions of Americans who get hit by it every year. When a mugger passes you on the street leaving you unmolested, he did not in fact give you your wallet.

Finally, there has been much confusion — some of it my fault — over whether the ending of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts or the A.M.T. “patches,” scheduled for Dec. 31, 2012, should count as a tax hike. If they are ended, the government will take in nearly $4 trillion more over the next decade than if they remain.

My position, and the implications of the pledge regarding such “temporary” tax cuts, is clear. If there were no vote in Congress and taxes rose automatically, then no politicians would have voted for higher taxes and no elected official would have broken his or her pledge.

But that is different from supporting a plan by some Democrats that would end some or all of these lower tax rates, higher per-child tax credits and the A.M.T. patches — policies that, by the way, Congress has extended repeatedly with bipartisan support. It is difficult to see how such a package would fail to violate the Taxpayer Protection Pledge. Contrary to the hopes of some that I am somehow softening the pledge, it is stronger and more important than ever: it has made it easier for members of Congress to credibly commit to voters that they will refuse to increase taxes and instead focus on reducing the cost of government.

But ultimately, the pledge is only one expression of the Republicans’ commitment to shrinking the size of the federal government. The Republican leaders — Mr. Boehner, Representative Eric Cantor, Senator Mitch McConnell and Senator Jon Kyl — have repeatedly and clearly stated that they will not allow a net tax hike to be imposed on the American people as part of a debt ceiling deal — especially when the goal of that deal is to reduce the runaway spending now damaging America’s economic future and killing the jobs we need.

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