Norquist: ‘End of the Grand Bargain’

Photograph by Rich Clement/Bloomberg

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, speaks during an interview in Washington, D.C.

Democrats, chafing at the “choke collar” on their appropriators, are yielding their desire to raise taxes to their thirst for bigger spending, says one of the capital’s leading anti-tax activists.

The budget deal at hand — approved overwhelmingly by the House last week and ready for apparent Senate approval this week is proof, says Grover Norquist,  president of Americans for Tax Reform.

“The reason why this deal is interesting and important is that it signals the end of the grand bargain,” Norquist said at a Bloomberg Government-sponsored breakfast at Bloomberg’s Washington bureau today. “The sequester changed that,” he said of the automatic spending cuts that are somewhat eased in the bipartisan agreement soon ready for the president’s expected signature.

“The Democrats saw the sequester as a choke collar,” he said, while the Tea Party and Republican Party leadership are in “complete synch: ‘Let’s live with the sequester.”’

In the bargain, he said, the Democrats have won their goal of protecting entitlements, and the Republicans have won their prohibition against new taxes, says Norquist (while conceding that the fee created for the Transportation Security Administration “looks like an excise tax.”)

The agreement eases about $63 billion of those automatic spending cuts over two years, while maintaining most of the sequestration over 10 years. “We protected the sequester,” Norquist says.

“We loosened the collar… what I think is a loose-fitting collar.” And from now on, he suggests, the debate will center on further loosening of the collar rather than the major tax increases that Democrats have insisted must be part of any “grand bargain” for cutting the deficit. “The pressure point on the modern Democratic Party is not their appetite for taxes.” Rather, he says, it is their discomfort with any squeeze on spending — robbing congressional appropriators of a beloved power.

“That’s why I’m not bouncing off the walls,” he says of the deal that passed by the House by 332-94 yet is likely to clear the Senate by a far closer margin. “I think it’s going to pass.”

In the process, he says, even the Defense Department is learning to live within tighter means. “We’re out there fondling the third rail of politics and there are no sparks.”

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