The Washington Post

Grover Norquist discusses debt negotiations

Jul 13, 2011

Grover Norquist has been an influential political figure during debt negotiations between Republicans and Democrats. Grover chatted about how he feels the United States should shrink its debt and his stance on debt negotiations.

Related: Grover Norquist, the anti-tax enforcer behind the scenes of the debt debate

What are the repercussions for those GOP members who vote to raise revenues or spending?

Congressmen or Senators who have signed the taxapayer protection pledge promising their citizens that they will oppose and vote against tax increases who then vote for tax hikes have to answer to the voters.

When Georege H.W. Bush did just this in 1990 he lost the 1992 election.  There are consequences to raising taxes.

Federal tax levels are currently at less than 15% of GDP. Where do you think they should be?

Federal tax revenues are about 15 percent of GDP, down from historic averages above 18 percent thanks to Obama's job killing stimulus package that have seen 1.5 million jobs lost.  We were promised 3 millinon addtional jobs.   Overspending big government kills jobs.  Freedom and lower tax rates and less regulation allows Americans to create jobs.

The best way to increase tax revenue is to have more Americans at work and the best way to do that is to move to a more limited govenrment: less regulation, fewer and lower taxes, trial lawyers deported to countries with unpleasant weather patterns.

Why do you not seem to grasp that tax expenditures are expenditures, not rate increases?

I remember this argument from the 1970s when it was being made by Teddy Kennedy.  The theory was, is, that if the government fails to steal your money--they gave it to you. 

When a mugger passes you unmolested in the street--you should thank the muggger for giving you your wallet.

When I was in Lesotho years ago I head the same...all the land was owned by the King and he would let you have some to farm on.   You owned no property but were allowed by the kindness of the king the "right" to use his property as long as it pleased the king.

You deserve to keep the money and property you earn. The government needs as very strong argument to take it from you.

Who elected you to anything?

As a citizen of the United States of Ameria I have certain freedoms that have not been taken away by politicians and thanks to the constitution it is difficult, not impossible, for them to deny those freedoms.  As a board member of the NRA I fight every day for the rights of all Americans --with the help of the Second Amendment.  As the president of Americans for Tax Reform I work every day to highlight which politicians stand with taxpayers and which assault their liberties.  You are free to campaign for and promote those politicians who seize the work and income of others--I have the right to oppose your tax hiking efforts.

But no one has the right to silence anyone in America or even to question their right to speak.  (although I noticed you presumed to do so.  You could perhaps enforce your views in another country.  Not this one.)

You are on record as stating that a larger deficit is better than higher taxes. Is there any level of deficit where this position might change?

My position is now and has always been that taxes are already too high.

WE should focus on reducing spending. Not hiking taxes to pay for overlarge and overbearing govenrment.

Obama is spending too much of your money.  He should spend less of other people's money.  NOt go take more to continue spending.


The focus is on lowering spending. That is the goal.

Raising taxes does not help reduce spending.

Grover, your name inherently makes me think of a cat, in fact you kinda look like one in your photo. Speaking of cats, we have a real fat cat paradox in this country. Should the U.S. banking corporations we helped bail out assist us in keeping our credit rating stabilized by alleviating some of our debt to foreign nations? We could call it the "Great Debt Swap"

TAxpayers should not be bailing out banks or failed auto companies or unions.  Period.

Nor should we force American taxpayers to send cash to  failed and destructive foreign governments and dictators.  They should have to steal their own money from their own citizens, not ask our government to loot the American people to send to foreign governments. (First choice, of course, is that they stop looting their own people.)

It's obvious that the Bush tax cuts of the last 10 years are not working. No jobs have been produce because of this inequality.Your no tax pledge is a bit juvenile. Don't you believe that equalizing the rax rates would benefit everyone?

The tax cuts of 2003 which reduced the capital gains tax rate to 15% and cut the double taxation of divident income certainly spurred economic growth.


Sorry you don't like the tax pledge.  Dont' sign it.

I would support efforts to  move towards a single rate income tax system--like the progressive people of Massachusetts have.  Everyone pays the same rate.




Would you be in favor of trying to reduce entitlement expenditures by encouraging the elderly and those seriously ill who are not wealthy to commit suicide? Your position on taxes leaves them few alternatives.

I cannot imagine why your team isn't doing better with such well thought out arguments.

What are your thoughts on McConnell's plan?

It may be the only way to force Obama to actually write down his "plan."

Right now Obama is promoting an imaginary budget with bold and daring spending restraint and painless tax hikes that are not written down---because they are unicorns.

McConnell's plan may be the only way to expose Obama's lack of seriousness

You recently opposed efforts in the U.S. Senate to eliminate preferential tax treatment for ethanol producers. In the past five years, have you received any payments from any members of the ethanol lobby?

Step one in engaging in public debates is to avoid subjects you  know nothing about.

I have always opposed the efforts by the government to force Americans to use ethanol--or any particular energy. All people should be free to use whatever source of energy they wish to use.

ATR supported ending the ethanol tax credit and at the same time passing at tax cut of the same or larger size so that tax reform would not be corrupted into a tax hike.


ATR send several letters to the Senate urging all SEnators to vote for both the Coburn amendmentand the DeMint Amendment. Together they ended the ethanol mandate and reduced rather than increased income taxes.


Given ATR's position it does not surprise me that the nice producers of ethanol have failed to support our efforts.

Those nice producers of ethanol  might wish to thank SEnator Coburn for his repeated speeches in favor of the ethanol mandate that so enriches them.  Here ATR opposes Sen. Coburns public statements in support of forcing consumers to pay extra for something they don't want.

Bruce Bartlett, who you may have worked with seems to have a very different view than yourself on the issue of taxes and revenues. Would care to explain why you differ from his comments. He had a chat on the Wash Post last week.

Bruce is a very nice man who has  thrown in the towel on limiting government.  He thinks we now have to send the government as much money as they can spend.

My job is to cheer Bruce up by doing what he thinks impossible--reducing the size, cost and irritation of big government.

In your view, what is the correct level of federal taxes? Also, should states or local governments be allowed to tax? If so, at what level?

Samuel Gompers was asked what labor wanted. He said "more."

You ask what is the proper level of federal taxes.   I say, "Lower."


Can you give us a background on your professional career?


Presideent of Americans for TAx REform for the past 25 years. 

Before that, one year as ex. director or National Taxpayers Union.  TWo years speechwriter for US Chamber of Commerce.



I am sympathetic to your goal of smaller government, but question if making taxes a priority over deficit is the best strategy. Starving the beast, I fear, won't make the beast smaller, but just might make the beast more dangerous. In other words, if deficits get large enough and government coffers empty enough, what is to prevent the government from simply retreating into a defensive crouch and becoming more totalitarian.

You are quite right that holding the line on taxes is the necessary, but not sufficient, victory in keeping government limited.

Total govenrment spending and regulations must be limited.  Sending the government more money undermines all efforts to limit spending.

Hence my focus.  It is part of the effort to limit government. There are clearly other key steps.

The notion of tax cuts paying for themselves seems to be a constant refrain among conservatives - could you please provde an example of a tax cut that actually did pay for itself?

The goal of tax reduction is not to have them pay the government more.  The goal of lower taxes is to let Americans who earn a dollar keep the rewards to their work.

Lower tax rates do lead to more economic growth and sadly higher revenues to the government.  Witness the reaction to the tax rate cuts of 1981-83.  THe capital gains tax rate cut of 1997 and the 2003 tax rate cuts on cap gains and dividdends.

Economic liberty creates more growth, jobs and wealth than statism.  East Germany v. West Germany. N. Korea vs. South Korea.  California vs. Texas.


Are you gratified that your pledge has been the single biggest driver in the debt limit negotiations?

The Elections of 2010 and 2012 are the drivers of the debt ceiling debate.

Obama's big spending policies were repudiated in 2010 or we would not be here debating his policies.

And obama fears facing voters with his job destroying tax and spend policies. He is trying to get the REpublicans to hold his hand and agree to something so that he will not be responsible for what he hath wrought.

Can you please tell us what are some of the exact causes that contribute to the debt?

Government spending more money that they forcibly take from the American people.

Assuming there's no agreement to raise the debit limit by August 2, how do you suppose this would play out?

Good question.

One wonders if OBama would repudiate the debt as the seems to suggest.  He is also threatening to cut social security and defense first.

He has very odd priorities.

We saw substantial job growth, and balanced budgest, during the Clinton era when we had slighly higher tax rates. What has changed in the last dozen years that now makes it impossible in your view for the economy to grow under those conditions?

The eight years of the Clinton presidency are divided in two parts.

The first two years of low growth.  And the last six years of growth, job creation and increased wealth.

The dividing point?  Election of 1994.  Congresses sometimes  are more important than presidents.

If we are in a crisis- Why are we not eliminating funds to "Departments that we can live without" TSA 33,000+ troops coming home? DOE a flat line on production 160 Billion per yr Budget? EPA don't they have enough laws to last 10 years without making more Just to keep their jobs? Obama has put his '0' accomplishments and an expired VISA Card on the table. What will you recomend 'That we can live without for at least 3 years'

Visa Card necessary.

AMEX we can toss out.


What's the right size of government? I hear you say smaller, smaller, smaller--but I think you believe there are roles the federal government should fill. (E.g., national defense. Social Security?) So if you were to build the government from scratch, how much revenue would it need?

What should the government do?

Step one is to look at those things mentioned in the constitution.

Joe Sobran once wrote...anything called a program is probably unconstitutional.. (Sobram probably didn't actually write "Probably.")

Do you believe that President Obama is categorically wrong by taking a balanced approach of three parts spending cuts, one part revenue enhancing even if the taxes or loop hole tightening were to be reasonably postponed until a trigger would only kick in after an acceptable level of growth were established?

For his purposes of ratcheting government up in size in America to move our nation in the direction of France and Greece Obama is quite correct to suggest this.

those of us who wish to return to being the United States are wise to pass on this offer of ever higher taxes to pay for ever higher spending.

Since revenues as a percentage of GDP is a relatively low 15% and you insist on no new taxes, what would you get rid of? Are wars optional to you, or should they be put on a credit card as President Bush did? I don't think you can squeeze much more out of domestic discretionary spending, so what is unneeded?

The Obama stimulus plan that stimulated unemployment was a mitake.

The 25% hike in domestic discretionary spending was a bad idea.

Tripling the number of troops in Afghanistan was not the wisest move.


Since your group is called Americans for Tax Reform would you agree to major tax reform to rid the tax code of special interest deductions if it resulted in lowering the corporate tax rate?


This is a good idea.  Is also part of the Ryan Plan passed by the House and supported already by 40 plus Senators.

The only thing in the way is Obama and Reid.

When a new Republican is elected to the House or Senate, how long does it take for them to sign your pledge? Does this happen even before they take their oath of office? Also, do you typically approach them, or do they approach you about signing it?

Most congressmen and Senators sign the Taxpayer Protection Pledge while they are running for office.

it allows them to let their voters know what they plan to do if elected.

Some congressmen and Senators sign the pledge after they are elected.

How low would taxes have to get before you feel they are low enough?

My life work is finding that out.

Why do you think that a small minority of anti-tax people have the right to stop the passage of bills that benefit the majority?

Do you think a large motercyle gang is allowed to mug a handful of tourists.

So, is the GOP going to force ("allow") the US to go into a default, and, what do you think the prospects for the GOP will be in the next elections will be if the US does go into default?

Only Obama can put the united states in default.

Even if he loses the power to borrow more there is enough money coming in in taxes to pay the interest.

He would then choose what bills to pay or not.

One thing I still do not understand about your stance on tax increases is your opposition to ending such wasteful subsidies as underwriting ethanol. Why is ending that subsidy - and others like it - tantamount to a tax increase in your view? I agree with you we shouln't raise rates, but I do not put ending subsidies in the same basket as that.

Do visit the ATR website,

There you will learn we support removing any and all deductions and credits in return for lowering rates.

One very low income tax rate with few deductions.

Is it your view that our current and future deficits can be reduced to a manageable size through spending cuts alone? If so, how? Alternatively, is it your view that high deficits are less harmful to the economy -- both short and long term -- than tax increases?

The cost of government is total spending.

The only way to reduce the cost of government is to reduce government spending.

the deficit is the difference between taxes and spending.

Raising taxes does not reduce the cost of government--it encourages politicians to spend more.


Mr. Norquist, why do you believe the people of the top income bracket should not pay their fair share of taxes? Please answer the questions without using the phrase"job creators".

Every person should pay their fair share of taxes and only their fair share.

Although there is a fear among yourself and many members of Congress that passing a tax hike to prevent a U.S. debt default will set a precedent for even greater tax increases in the future; what is wrong with encouraging a measured compromise in this instance for raising taxes to help resolve an impending debt crisis?

That question was answered in 1990.  Tax hikes are spent, not used to reduce the deficit.  See also 1982.

Or Greece.  Or California.  Or Illinois.

Thank you for taking some time to chat with readers today. I find a lot of your writing very interesting even though I disagree with much of it. I am curious, though, about how you think about income inequality in terms of the America you wish to bring about. A country with no mechanism to redistribute some of the income that amasses among top earners to people who are simply born into difficult economic circumstances will quickly become a nation starkly divided between a small, very rich population, and a vast, extremely poor one. I'd like to hear your argument about why this sketch of a low-tax society is wrong. Many kind thanks.

Is it true that the federal government takes in enough money each day to cover the interest payments it must make each to avoid defaulting? Also, shouldn't we just quit sending out billions of dollars in foreign aid before we raise the debt ceiling? It just seems borrowing more money without first reigning in spending is a foolish, foolish course.

The government should stop spending so much.

Yes, foreign aid is doubly destructive.  It impoverishes both American taxpayres and subsidizes foreign governments that then do not need to be kind to their own citizens.

In the old days whent he king wanted a new castle he needed sucessful peasants he could loot.  NOw he asks Sweden for foreign aid.

How can you justify no tax increases when tax revenue is at its lowest rate in over 60 years? Furthermore, if low tax rates equals jobs, where are the jobs then? Also, how is removing a tax loophole increasing taxes? By removing the loophole, the taxpayer is paying the existing rate, the loophole is an "artifical" lowering which should have never been there to begin with.

You are confusing low average taxes with low marginal tax rates.

WE have low income tax revenue because Obama has damaged the economy and killed so many jobs.

Fewer employees....fewer taxpayers...less money

Is Mitch McConnell's suggestion that the President be allowed to raise the debt ceiling a strategem designed to place the blame for further increases in the deficit on the White House? Why would the Senate minority leader waste his colleague's time and political capital on such a foolish idea?

Well Reid isn't busy doing anything else.

Hasn't actually written or passed a budget for the last 800 days.

Obama threatens not to pay retireees or the military. I don't think he can do that within the text of of these budget talks, can he? Also, since he has brought up not paying government workers (the military) why should we pay the Congress, Senate, their aides, etc since they are not even doing their jobs? Should non performing employees get paid? I won't argue the union point here.

Obama can and will make his decisions on what bills get paid and which employees get paid as he has made all his decisions...on politics.

This is Chicago in DC.  What did you expect? Minnesota nice?

Can you explain what the legitimate role of government is in your view if any? National defense? Police? Are laws against pollution OK?

Government can and should oppose others from initiating force against you.

That means keeping the Canadians on their side of the border and muggers in prison.

Mr. Norquist, Just wanted to wish you luck navigating what I'm sure will be hostile waters on this chat. Also, I think that extending your no new taxes cause to eliminating tax breaks for favored for favored constituencies is misguided. We need to do that to clean up the tax code, make it simpler, so that we can then have lower overall taxes in the future.

Pleae do visit our website,

WE support, and always have, trading tax credits for lower rates.  It is what we do.

Double darn on that Senator Coburn for fibbing on this and confusing small children about the nature of the world.

Would you release lawmakers from the no tax pledge in the event of a national emergency such as the outbreak of a major war or some unforeseen calamity?

LEt me get this right.

If there was an emergency---there is no present government spending we could do without?


Would you rather see the US Government default on some its obligations than increase taxes, either by closing loopholes or raising rates?  Thank you.

I, along with the american people, would like the government to stop spending so much money.

Then they wouldn't have to borrow more.

As I understand it, you are against taxes but not against deficits. If this is incorrect, could you point to any criticism you made of President Reagan or President George W. Bush when they increased the deficit with increased government spending?

ATR opposes tax hikes and supports lower spending.

Go to the website for history of opposition to stupid spending by politicians of all parties.

I also write a column for the American Spectator.

How can you continue to support a no tax increase policy when there are obviously very good reasons to increase taxes with reduced government spending? Your hardline position does not seem to be in the best interest of this nation and the majority of its people.

Thank you for your comments.

You are wrong.

Federal tax levels are currently at less than 15% of GDP. Where do you think they should be? Your response was evasive. I'd like a figure from you? 3% 4% 5% what would make you satisfied?

it takes time to reduce the damage done by statism.

WE didn't get into this mess overnight.

Let's reduce the size and cost of government step by step.

Why is the Minnesota budget shutdown important from a national perspective?

good example of a tax and spend executive trying to force the legislature to increases taxes.

Just say no.

Which governors and state legislatures serve as the best examples for Obama and Congress?

Texas, Ohio, Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Maine, Pennsyulvania....all have cut spending and refused to raise taxes.

Bad examples: Illinois, Connecticut.

Do you feel any responsibility for turning the US into a dysfunctional democracy with a paralyzed government? Granted, you're doing all right, but millions of people will be harmed by the inability of our government to operate. Feel good about that?

 I guess I, and the reality based world, missed the bit where I increased federal spending and passed obamacare and 20 tax hikes.

Did I sleep through something?  Here on plane earth,  REid, Pelosi and OBama incrased federal spending from $2.9 Trillion in 2008 to $3.8 trillion today.

Effective corporate taxes are amongst the lowest in the world and nearly all Americans have a lower overall tax burden than any time since the 1950s - and yet growth is at a standstill and most Americans haven't had a real wage increase since the late 70s. If low taxes are the key to economic growth, why is the economy performing so poorly for most Americans?

I went to public school.  But I later learned the difference between average tax burden and marginal tax burden.

Marginal taxes change behavior.


For many years, Senator William Proxmire of Wisconsin awarded the 'Golden Fleece' trophy to the federal program that, in his view, represented the greatest 'flleecing' of the public. I recall that you and your organization strongly supported Proxmire's opinion in this area. Yet, Proxmire was the largest fleece of all: his final election was the last in which retiring politicans could keep for personal use any remaining campaign funds. Proxmire spent $162.00 of the several million he raised, and kept the rest!

I always thought Senator Proxmire's reputation as a budget cutter was overrated.

You raise many good points. 

Your advocacy seems to focus primarily on fighting off tax increases and pushing for tax decreases. Do you view it as part of your role to encourage people to think about doing without the most popular, but most expensive spending (i.e. non-interest) items in the budget, namely entitlements and defense? If you take our debt situation, and your position on taxes, the only way to improve our fiscal situation without incurring more debt is to cut these popular items.

I highly recommend my book "Leave us alone" which focusses on reducing spending and taxes in the final chapters.  A fun read.

Could you explain when the economy tanked (2007-2009), which Administration was in office, and what policies caused the initial start of the deficits the US has incurred after the Clinton surpluses were 'given' back to the taxpayers in the Bush tax cuts?

Watch the change in congress cited in both your examples.

2007...Democrast take over the House and Senate. No Reform of Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac possible.  TAx hikes spending hikes and Democrat presidnet almost did economy respond?

Clinton years?  1993 and 1994...Democrat House and Senate, no growth.....1995 through 2000....GOP house and Senate and growth.

Congress is key.

Given that basic economics says that whatever activities we tax, provide a disincentive for more of that activity, why do we tax income -- both corporate and personal? Shouldn't we want more productive work? Why don't we instead tax things we really want less of, like pollution?

WE tax work, savings and investment--and get less of it.

Pehaps we should tax politicians.

Do I follow correctly that you would support a flat tax? And if so, are there any existing flat-tax proposals you think are promising?


Massachuetts has a flat taxj..about 5%

Also Texas, Florida, Nevada and Wyoming--zero percent.

Guys, this has been fun.  I am off to return to work.

follow me on twitter @grovernorquist

In This Chat
Grover Norquist
Grover Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform, a taxpayer advocacy group he founded in 1985 at the request of President Ronald Reagan. He serves on the board of directors of the American Conservative Union, the National Rifle Association, and The Center for the National Interest. He is the author of the book Leave us Alone -- Getting the Government's Hands Off Our Money, Our Guns, Our Lives. Follow him on Twitter @GroverNorquist.
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