Of Graham, taxes, Norquist and unicorns

I was a bit out of the loop last week, and missed this:

As a conservative Republican, Lindsey Graham has never had a problem promising not to raise taxes.  Like almost every other Republican member of Congress, he has signed the anti-tax pledge put forth by Grover Norquist’s group Americans for Tax Reform.

But now Graham says the debt crisis is so severe that the tax pledge — which says no tax loopholes can be eliminated unless every dollar raised by closing  loopholes goes to tax cuts — has got to go.

“When you eliminate a deduction, it’s okay with me to use some of that money to get us out of debt. That’s where I disagree with the pledge,” said Graham…

Sounds perfectly reasonable to me. But it sent Grover Norquist into orbit, ranting about unicorns:

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, is none too pleased.

“This was a brain fart, not a real idea,” he told me in a phone conversation just now. “It doesn’t scare me. I think what he was doing was answering a hypothetical question to show how hypothetically open-minded he was about something.”…

He said the Senator was making the same mistake Ronald Reagan made in 1982 and George H.W. Bush did in 1990: believing congressional Democrats who promise a ratio of spending cuts to tax increases, in this case four-to-one.

“Pinocchio was told by the fox and cat that this would be” a good idea, Norquist said. He lampooned Graham for being disconnected from the reality of fiscal negotiations, comparing him to his three-year-old daughter.

“It’s like having that conversation about what color unicorn you like, while in the back of your mind you know there’s no such thing. ‘Grover, why don’t you like green ones?’ But there aren’t any ones! I have a three year old who says this a lot. She has green unicorns, but we don’t need them in the Senate.”…

I’m not sure exactly what he means, but he seems to be saying that presuming to actually deliberate with the other member of the Congress who, although of a different party, were elected just as legitimately to that body as Graham was (you know, as the Framers of the Constitution envisioned), is as fantastic and ridiculous as the existence of unicorns.

Is that how you read it?

There is the world envisioned by the Framers, and then that envisioned by Grover Norquist. In the latter, all elected representatives do exactly what Grover Norquist tells them to do. I prefer the former.

41 thoughts on “Of Graham, taxes, Norquist and unicorns

  1. `Kathryn Braun

    The whole Norquist thing is so over-the-top. If he weren’t rich and we weren’t in the Citizens United campaign finance era, would we care what he said? Do my fellow Americans really agree with this stuff?

    Curious green unicorns sleep furiously!

  2. Silence

    There’s no debt crisis. There is a spending crisis. The federal government simply cannot stop increasing spending. Getting more revenues is a short term fix, like a junkie or an addicted gambler, eventually no amount of revenue will be enough to meet the “need”. I think we are there already.

  3. Juan Caruso

    The world envisioned by the Framers was notably devoid of entitlement spending, Brad, and in any case, it was certainly opposed to spending beyond the ability to produce, with the exception of national defense.

    Today, our Dept of State gives away more money in a year to foreign nations than our nation produced in its first 25. —Just a thought for some quantitatively- challenged dreamers.

    Contrary to performing reliably as the valuable 4th estate our Framers had envisioned, journalism has evolved into a partisan art of “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable” in what can only be described as a blatant abdication of raison d’être for an uniquely recognized profession.

  4. Steve Gordy

    Silence, you are partially correct, but the enduring meme that “if we cut taxes, Congress will have to cut spending” has been thoroughly refuted by history. The only way out of this financial morass is to do the hard work – raise taxes and then turn up the pressure on Congress and the President to establish a firm plan for getting the country back on the financial straight-and-narrow.

  5. Doug Ross

    Graham was fine with signing the “pledge” when he thought it would help him politically. So why aren’t you blaming him for giving Norquist legitimacy? Who is more at fault – Norquist for organizing a group centered around a political philosophy or the supposed smart guy Graham jumping on the bandwagon to prop up his weak conservative credibility?

    Graham is nothing if not a political chameleon determined to keep his name in the spotlight. We’ll hear a lot of bluster from Lindsey about Obama up until the election and then a reversal afterward.

    And this is the part you just don’t seem to get – if Norquist’s message didn’t resonate with enough people, why would so many Republicans buy into it? There is a large enough base in many states that supports cutting taxes and cutting government spending to make it a viable philosophy. Just because you don’t agree with it doesn’t mean it won’t win elections — especially in South Carolina.

    And Silence is right – it’s not about debt – it’s about spending. The government spends too much in general and too much on the wrong things. For example, several million dollars were spent over two years to determine if Roger Clemens lied to Congress about using steroids. Who cares if he lied and who cares if he used them? To waste so many resources on a trivial matter demonstrates clearly that the system is broken.

  6. bud

    The reason I ask is because in the spending debate the devil really is in the details. I could list many things that should be cut, especially with the military, but right now I don’t see that as a good option given the high unemployment rate and very low rate for borrowing. This would be a great time to fix our infrastructure and put people to work. But as a long-term goal I agree that it will become imperative to cut spending.

  7. `Kathryn Braun

    Wow, Silence–the government is a junkie? Exaggerate much?

    A debt crisis, if indeed that is what we have–heard about Greece–that’s a debt crisis–the debt crisis is a result of fighting two+ wars while cutting taxes repeatedly under the Bush years. Clinton ran a surplus. Doesn’t sound like a junkie to me.

  8. bud

    I don’t have much use for Grover Norquest but the real villians in all this are our elected GOP representatives, including, no make that especially Lindsey Graham.

  9. Steven Davis II

    “Silence, what spending would you cut?”

    Any that you can’t afford and aren’t vital to the security of the country.

  10. Brad

    Doug says: “Graham was fine with signing the “pledge” when he thought it would help him politically. So why aren’t you blaming him for giving Norquist legitimacy?”

    I do. I blame everyone who ever signed that pledge. But most of all I blame those who signed the pledge and kept it. The people I respect — and there are far too few of them — are the ones who woke up and said, “Wow, I made a mistake. I take it back.”

    But then, I have contempt for pledges. I don’t believe they should ever, EVER be made in politics. Elected representatives should go into office free to make the best decisions they can under the conditions they actually encounter in office — conditions that cannot be fully anticipated. Promising always to vote “no” on a whole category of potential situations is as arbitrary as promising to do so only on even-numbered days of the month. It is an abdication of the responsibility of the elected representative in a republic.

    It’s bad enough to pledge to abdicate in that manner. It’s worse to keep the pledge, once you know better.

  11. Brad

    The only oath that matters is the one that elected people take when they take office. Any oath that limits their ability to fulfill THAT oath is illegitimate. ESPECIALLY an oath to Grover Norquist, as opposed to one to the people.

  12. Bart

    To continue on the theme Doug mentioned about Roger Clemens, now, another government agency, the Anti-Doping Agency is about to embark on another witchhunt by going after Lance Armstrong.

    This after he has passed every test given for the past 15 years. Not once has anything been found that would remotely implicate Armstrong in the use of performance enhancing drugs, etc.

    But, for whatever reason, this agency finds it necessary to go after another athlete and destroy his name if possible.

    Maybe this is the type of “junkie” behavior Silence is referring to. Would someone please let us know what this agency has done to justify its existence?

  13. `Kathryn Braun

    @bud– Especially Lindsey Graham? Go read Brad’s post on Jim DeMint and see if you still think Graham is “especially” bad.

  14. Karen McLeod

    After months of making partisan statements that have severely damaged his reputation as a statesman (at least in my eyes) Mr. Graham has once again acted in the best interests of his country. Thankyou, Mr. Graham.

  15. bud

    Any that you can’t afford and aren’t vital to the security of the country.
    -SD II

    This is the kind of answer you get whenever you ask conservatives to BE SPECIFIC about what they would cut. It’s kind of like trying to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, nothing ever comes of it.

  16. Doug Ross


    Wait til tomorrow. Senator Graham’s interests only revolve around what he can do to get re-elected. He’d be depressed if he wasn’t on Meet The Press’ speed dial.

  17. Karen McLeod

    Please, Doug, I’ve been disappointed and depressed enough by Mr. Graham’s recent descent into rank partisanship. DeMint doesn’t bother me so much; I already understand how perverse he is. I can at least look for, and hope for some signs of the intelligence and courage that led me to vote for Mr. Graham.

  18. Brad

    Here’s Lindsey Graham’s problem: The extreme base of the GOP hates him, because he will advocate pragmatic solutions that they find offensive.

    The rest of the electorate condemns him for not ALWAYS taking such sensible, centrist positions, rather than giving him credit for being one of the very few in this country who will EVER take such chances.

    I celebrate the instances of courage in Graham’s record, because I know how very rare such courage, coupled to intelligence and understanding of issues, is in our politics today. The fact that he at other times nods to orthodoxy doesn’t diminish the acts of courage.

    Which is better, someone who one out of 10 times does something extraordinarily courageous and intelligent, or someone who never does? Graham is one of the very, very few who fits into the first of those two categories.

  19. Doug Ross

    Pretty high standards you have there, Brad.

    There’s a campaign slogan I’m sure the Graham campaign will adopt:

    “10% of the time, you’ll think I’m great”

    At least with DeMint, you get what you voted for 90% or more of the time.

  20. Brad

    Actually, with DeMint, I get what I voted AGAINST, 100 percent of the time.

    OK, maybe 90 percent is closer to it. Even the people I disagree with the most occasionally do the right thing.

  21. Brad

    And by that logic, Graham does things I agree with more than half the time. It’s just that only about 10 percent is extraordinary, above and beyond the norm.

    And that’s what I’m talking about here. I should think it would be evident, from the words that I write. The 10 percent I cite isn’t just OK or acceptable performance. It’s out-of-the-ordinary, truly admirable stuff I’m talking about here.

  22. Tim

    Ever wonder why folks deride politicians of doing unpopular things with their base while in the same sentence accusing them of pandering for votes?

  23. Doug Ross

    I assume one of those things was his stance on immigration… Now when he backed off that stance in order to appease the SC voters, did he still get credit for the 10% extraordinary achievement?

    Can you cite a few of the 10% issues that he has stayed true to? Aside from anything related to war and war mongering..

  24. bud

    I simply cannot stand Lindsey Graham the politician. He’s the most disgusting, pandering, misguided soul on the planet. To steal a line from Rick Santorum rad when I read Brad’s endless glowing endorsement of this warmongering, hypocritical, panderer I just want to throw up. What really gets me about Graham is how he wants to have it both ways on everything. He talks endlessly about wanting to cut government spending. Then he turns around and endorses the utterly wasteful,unnecessary I-73 project. What is there to like about this man? Give me Jim DeMint any day over Graham. At least you know what to expect from him.

  25. David

    I would be surprised to learn that it is even possible to agree with Sen. Graham over half the time WHILE disagreeing with Sen. DeMint 90% of the time on the substantive policy positions they take.

    I guess if you’re just talking about rhetoric though…

  26. Silence

    Somehow we made it to 1913 without much in the way of a federal income tax.
    Where would I cut? Where to start:

    Executive Departments:
    Dept of Homeland Security (We already have a National Guard so we don’t need it)
    Dept of Energy
    Dept of Education (handled at the state level)
    Combine and consolidate Interior w/ Agriculture & Commerce w/ Labor
    Health and Human services goes under the Surgeon General.

    Access Board
    •Administration for Children and Families (ACF)
    •Administration for Native Americans
    •Administration on Aging (AoA)
    •Administration on Developmental Disabilities
    •Administrative Committee of the Federal Register
    •Administrative Conference of the United States
    •Advisory Council on Historic Preservation
    •African Development Foundation
    •Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)
    •Agency for International Development (USAID)
    •Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
    •Agricultural Marketing Service
    •Agricultural Research Service
    •Agriculture Department
    •Air and Radiation Hotline
    •Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives Bureau (Justice)
    •American Battle Monuments Commission
    •AmeriCorps Recruiting
    •AMTRAK (National Railroad Passenger Corporation)
    •Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
    •Antitrust Division
    •Appalachian Regional Commission
    •Architect of the Capitol
    •Arctic Research Commission
    •Armed Forces Retirement Home
    •Arms Control and International Security
    •Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Interagency Coordinating Committee
    •Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation
    •Bonneville Power Administration
    •Botanic Garden
    •Broadcasting Board of Governors (Voice of America, Radio|TV Marti and more)
    •Bureau of Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade (Treasury)
    •Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (Justice)
    •Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
    •Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection
    •Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)
    •Bureau of Industry and Security
    •Bureau of International Labor Affairs
    •Bureau of Justice Statistics
    •Bureau of Labor Statistics
    •Bureau of Reclamation
    •Bureau of the Public Debt
    •Bureau of Transportation Statistics
    •Capitol Visitor Center
    •Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
    •Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
    •Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)
    •Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board
    •Chief Acquisition Officers Council
    •Chief Financial Officers Council
    •Chief Human Capital Officers Council
    •Chief Information Officers Council
    •Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee
    •Civilian Radioactive Waste Management
    •Commission on Civil Rights
    •Commission on Fine Arts
    •Commission on International Religious Freedom
    •Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission)
    •Committee for Purchase from People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled
    •Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements
    •Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States
    •Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS)
    •Community Planning and Development
    •Compliance, Office of
    •Constitution Center
    •Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
    •Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)
    •Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
    •Corporation for National and Community Service
    •Council on Environmental Quality
    •Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
    •Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency for the District of Columbia
    Ad Nauseum…

  27. bud

    Silence, that’s an impressive list. Do you really want to get rid of the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Court of Appeals? If so then at least you’re consistent. I would suggest that if we get rid of all these things it would dramatically and negatively impact the overall unemployment rate. Then again, without the BLS we wouldn’t even know. Ignorance is bliss as they say.

  28. Silence

    @ bud – I obviously left in a few that are worth keeping in my copypasta effort. Obviously, we need to keep the court of appeals. The BLS just cooks the books for the Fed. The ADM numbers are probably just as good, and don’t cost the taxpayers a penny.

    The point is, there’s a TON of federal entities out there that could be cut, and very few folks would notice. Within many agencies worth keeping, for instance, any office with the word “diversity” or “women’s programs” in the name, for example.

  29. Brad

    That’s all right, silence, I accept your mea culpa.

    As for your list…

    Yeahhhh… I’m just going to have to go ahead and disagree with you there…

    Of your executive departments, the one I’m inclined to agree on is Education, which is NOT a proper function of the federal government. But then… what happens to the funding stream? Unfortunately, local schools have come to depend, to some extent, on that funding. Ideally, the states would pick up the slack. But do you think they really would, in today’s economic and political environment?

    That’s actually a concern I have across the board. In general, I think we invest too much in federal government, for things that should be handled on the state or local levels. As a member of Congress, I would be happy to defund those things — if I had confidence that states such as South Carolina would step in and come up with the funding to take over. But, to engage in understatement that would make an Englishman blush, I have my doubts on that score.

    So until that funding were replace, you might have an office devoted to channeling it to the states still. Perhaps a division of another agency. Maybe go back to the old HEW model, which could eliminate your HUD.

    As for your argument that we don’t need the Dept. of Homeland Security because we have a National Guard — really? I’m hearing this from a defense contractor? Personally, I don’t see a great deal of overlap between the respective missions of those two entities.

    Now, do I think we need a Homeland Security agency? No, I don’t. But that’s not because we have a National Guard. It’s because we already had all the entities that were wrapped into that catchall super agency.

    I think its creation was a “look, we’re doing something about terrorism” response on the part of Congress. Were there problems that needed addressing? Yes, such as sharing of intel. BUT… that said… I also understand the legitimate reasons, having to do with compartmentalization and need to know, that existed for not always sharing information freely among intelligence and counterintelligence agencies.

    In the case of al Qaeda, of course, that lack of sharing was terribly harmful: You had people over HERE who knew the 9/11 hijackers were in the country, and people over THERE who understood that they were terrorists. That sort of lack of lack of sharing of critical operational intelligence definitely needed to be addressed. But we didn’t have to create a mega-agency to accomplish it.

  30. bud

    In the case of al Qaeda, of course, that lack of sharing was terribly harmful: You had people over HERE who knew the 9/11 hijackers were in the country, and people over THERE who understood that they were terrorists.

    Any halfway decent president would have seen the extremely urgent nature of the various reports handed to him and would have convened a meeting with his security team and gotten to the bottom of the 9-11 plot and likely prevented it. To blame it on anyone other than Bush is ridiculous. He had the information in hand to act, but failed. And the nation paid.

    Restructuring of government never, ever does what it’s proponents say it will do. Only dedicated, hard working servants of the people can accomplish anything useful and at the end of the day the structure is not of great importance. The Dept of Homeland Security is the poster child for the old saying about rearrainging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Or perhaps closing the barn door after the cows have run away. Maybe we could even come up with a really cool mixed metaphor like rearranging the deck chairs in the barn after the cows have gone.

  31. Brad

    Um, Bud…

    The collection, collation and analysis of raw intelligence is most assuredly NOT the job of the president of the United States, whether the job is held by George W. Bush or Barack Obama or anyone else.

    People quite a few rungs down the ladder from POTUS do that. Then it is the job of the Director of National Intelligence to take all that information, fully analyzed and processed, to the president for the sake of major policy decisions (or, in the case of THIS POTUS, to pick individual targets for drone attacks).

    Speaking of which, we didn’t need to create the job of DNI. The director of Central Intelligence was supposed to perform that very same function — pull together all the intel from across all intel agencies, and digest it for the president.

  32. Silence

    @ Brad – Look at the name: “National Guard” if it’s not supposed to be guarding the nation, what is it doing? How is that different from securing the homeland? Can we really afford federal feel-good windowdressing at this point?

    Why do we need literally hundreds of thousands of uniformed, gun toting, badged federal agents? Sure, the FBI and US Marshalls are neccesary, but why does the EPA have agents with guns at all?

    How much do you figure it costs, percentagewise, for the feds to pass money through to the states? What gets siphoned off for employee salaries, overhead, fringe, office space, furnishings, vehicles, travel? 1%? 10%? 1% of a trillion is a lot.

  33. bud

    The National Guard is mostly for dealing with natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes. Or sometimes they are used to flesh out the army for a military operation. Not sure airport security is part of their job description.

  34. bud

    Brad you completely missed my point. POTUS WAS informed of an immenent plot to attack the US. The intelligence WAS presented to him. And he failed to act. Seems like everyond did their job but the hapless Bush.

  35. `Kathryn Braun

    @Silence–The National Guard has been deployed overseas–which I don’t think is right, but…

    But anti-terrorism efforts require a lot more sophisticated approaches than jackbooted soldiers (or the security theatre that is the TSA)—most of it is intelligence gathering and analysis. The better agency to subsume it would be the FBI with cooperation from the CIA regarding overseas aspects.

  36. Tim

    your list is probably about 2% of the federal government. Remove the military, VA, Medicaid, Social Security, Medicare and Debt Service and you might get somewhere.

  37. bud

    This just in based on recently declassified documents. This clearly shows the Bush Administration was extraordinarily complacent in dealing with what was by late summer 2001 an unfolding plot by Al-Qaida to attack the US. From Salon:

    “Many of the documents publicize for the first time what was first made clear in the 9/11 Commission: The White House received a truly remarkable amount of warnings that al-Qaida was trying to attack the United States. From June to September 2001, a full seven CIA Senior Intelligence Briefs detailed that attacks were imminent, an incredible amount of information from one intelligence agency. One from June called “Bin-Ladin and Associates Making Near-Term Threats” writes that “[redacted] expects Usama Bin Laden to launch multiple attacks over the coming days.” The famous August brief called “Bin Ladin Determined to Strike the US” is included. “Al-Qai’da members, including some US citizens, have resided in or travelled to the US for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure here,” it says. During the entire month of August, President Bush was on vacation at his ranch in Texas — which tied with one of Richard Nixon’s as the longest vacation ever taken by a president. CIA Director George Tenet has said he didn’t speak to Bush once that month, describing the president as being “on leave.” Bush did not hold a Principals’ meeting on terrorism until September 4, 2001, having downgraded the meetings to a deputies’ meeting, which then-counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke has repeatedly said slowed down anti-Bin Laden efforts “enormously, by months.”


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