Grover Norquist on "Face to Face" transcript
Bob Schieffer: Hello and welcome to "Face to Face." I'm Bob Schieffer. This is the webcast that is brought to you by the folks who bring you "Face the Nation." Grover Norquist - Mr. Anti-Tax Pledge Man.
Grover Norquist: Good to be with you, again.
Bob Schieffer: You're getting a lot of publicity these days because several Republicans are saying well, we're not going to abide by the pledge anymore.
Grover Norquist: It's interesting. In the last week or so three people said, well I might under certain circumstances raise taxes. And it got a lot of attention. It surprised me a little bit because all three said the same thing two years ago. Somebody was turning in their homework a year later and re-running everything that was said a couple years ago. There are a couple people who said they might raise taxes. They were the same people who said so two years ago when we had the debate over, not the fiscal cliff but the debt ceiling. They were the same people that said well we might raise taxes, but they didn't. And the Republican leadership in the House and Senate didn't, and while whatever impure thoughts they had about tax increases, they didn't pull the trigger.
Bob Schieffer: But what about this whole business of signing a pledge before you take office to say I won't do this or that. Doesn't that really just kind of hog tie a legislator? Shouldn't legislators be able to find compromise and always be looking for ways to compromise?
Grover Norquist: Well I think the pledge is very important because it allows elected officials to credibly explain to voters before they vote for them, before they buy the car, well here's the warranty. Here's what I'm going to do. Not just it looks pretty, but it runs. I'm running for office. I'm going to be your congressman. As long as I'm your congressman, I'm going to reform government, I'm going to rein in spending, I'm going to take a look at how to do things more effectively, I'm not going to raise taxes. It explains what they want to do. The pledge really became important after George Herbert Walker Bush, Bush '41, got elected, defeating Bob Dole, who was supposed to win the primary. Dole refused to take the pledge on national television during the New Hampshire debate, lost New Hampshire, and Bush went on to win. Then Bush was 17 points - 14 points - behind Mike Dukakis until he said, "read my lips, no new taxes," signed the pledge, I'm not going to raise taxes. I'm going to govern as Reagan. That was the big signal of how he would govern. And then he didn't keep his word. And in 1990 he raised taxes in order to increase spending. He said he was raising taxes because the Democrats would give him two dollars of spending cuts for every dollar of tax increase. Spending actually went up, not down. The spending promises didn't materialize. And he hurt the economy. Economy slowed with the tax increase. He couldn't get re-elected. As a result, a lot of people said, candidates, I get it. If I take the pledge everyone knows that I know what happens to people who break the pledge. Therefore it's more believable. When I say I'm taking the pledge, you and I know if I break the pledge you're going to treat me like Bush. So you know you can trust me because I know what that means, too. And that gave the pledge a lot more heft and credibility, and voters said, I can trust you, because you put it in writing. I can trust you because you know that voters will remember what you put in writing. A politician who says I'd rather not raise taxes, now is not the time to raise taxes, raising taxes is the last thing I'd do, has just promised you nothing. Sounded like he said something, but he didn't. The pledge is in writing. It doesn't change. There are no weasel words. I'm not going to raise your taxes. No net increases. Tax reform? Yes. Tax increases? No. And what that does is it says here's all the things I will do. I'll reform entitlements. I'll reduce spending. I'll reform government. But I'm not going to raise taxes. As long as I'm a congressman or a senator or a president - whatever the office is. So I think it's the height of responsibility from taxpayers to insist, tell me what you're going to do, and mean it. And tell me what you're not going to do.
Bob Schieffer: But now you're having some leading Republican voices, people like Lindsey Graham, who says, you know I'm going to take an oath to the Constitution. That's the only oath that I'm going to feel bound by. Some people are saying we're over Grover.
Grover Norquist: Well, again, they said that two years ago. They said that when Bush broke his pledge in 1990. And what was over was Bush's career, not the idea that politicians should be honest with the American people. As a matter of fact, the idea that somebody would break his pledge and he had a very successful presidency, as Bush's was, in foreign policy. He managed the collapse of the Soviet Union without a lot of blood on the floor. Who thought that was possible? He kicked Iraq out of Kuwait and didn't get stuck occupying the place for a decade. Very successful presidency except he didn't keep his word to the American people. He raised taxes. He hurt the economy. And as a result the American people said no. So clearly the pledge and the idea that you should be honest with the American people about your plans on taxes won. Two years ago people said, oh, we're up against the debt ceiling, the pledge is all over, every time some politician misspoke or stumbled over his words I would get a breathless call from the press saying, oh this congressman is for tax increases. I would call him on the phone. Hi, are you for tax increases? Then, no, I was asked a hypothetical question. There are a handful of people who have said maybe I could raise taxes under some circumstances. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said if the Democrats give me 10-to-1 dollars on entitlement reform, that's ironclad and can't be revoked, I would consider a tax increase. And I've had this conversation with him. I've also said, Senator, nobody is going to offer you that. You just told us you'd be willing to buy a silver unicorn. But there aren't any silver unicorns.
Bob Schieffer: Well let me just ask you this: what would be better - for people to keep their pledge not to raise taxes and let the country go over a fiscal cliff because the congress couldn't come to an agreement on what to do? What would be better - to keep the pledge or to find some way to keep that from happening?
Grover Norquist: Well, two years ago we faced exactly that situation. We had a fiscal cliff two years ago that looks exactly like the one we have now. All of the tax cuts from 2001, 2003, the AMT patch, the extender package, all lapsed two years ago and Obama, the Democratic senate and the incoming Republican House all agreed to extend all the tax cuts for two years because Obama said he thought a tax increase would damage the economy and the economy was very weak. The economy is every bit as weak today as it was two years ago and I believe that Obama, when he decided to extend the tax cuts, was not being selfish and trying to get himself elected, but that he cared about the country. I think he still cares about the country.
Bob Schieffer: Well what do you think is going to happen?
Grover Norquist: I think, my recommendation to Republicans and Democrats, is to have the negotiations in front of C-SPAN cameras. This is what Obama said he was going to do when he ran for office in 2008 with things like Obamacare. Instead what happened was Obamacare was decided in a room with PHARMA and the insurance companies and not the American people. We need to have something like this budget discussion with C-SPAN cameras there so every American can see - who's being reasonable? Is it Obama? The Republican House? The Democratic Senate? I don't want to prejudge. Let's have it in front of the American people and see who's telling the truth and who isn't. And if we do that, and then when a deal is agreed to, it's written down and put online for seven days so that every American can see it. Not the lobbyists in DC, but every American in D.C. can see it. Then we have two things, people can see the sausage being made and they can see what's actually there in writing. No more TARP-ing people. No more hurry, hurry, sign it. Don't read it. Just sign it. Vote for it. Where people got jammed under Bush and voted for something that they now regret.
Bob Schieffer: Do you really think that you could put this country on a sound financial footing without increasing revenue in some way? That you could do that all by simply cutting spending?
Grover Norquist: Yes. But I would also point out that right now taxes are about 16 percent of GDP. In a normal, healthy economy it's 18.5 percent of GDP. With Bush tax rates, you get 18.5 percent of GDP in terms of government revenue. We're down to 16, 16.5 percent because of the recession. So the first thing you do is we need to have growth rather than no growth. Reagan, from the bottom of his recession out until today, as many months as we are now out of Obama's the bottom of his recession. The difference between Reagan's recovery and Obama's recovery is that if Obama had grown the economy as Reagan did there would be 11.5 million Americans at work today who (inaudible). So the damage that Obama's done to the country is that he's got 11.5 million families with somebody unemployed today because he didn't do what Reagan did. He didn't cut taxes, he didn't rein in spending. He didn't reduce regulations. He did the opposite of those things and he got the opposite result. Let's get those people to work. That would bring tax revenue up to 18.5 percent of GDP. Not tax increase. It's 11 million more people at work. And we need to bring spending down. Obama took it from 21 percent up to 24, 25. Those are historic levels that have not been reached since World War Two. We need to take it down to the normal levels. And that is the beginning of a recovery.
Bob Schieffer: Do you see this problem being resolved by the end of the year or do you think it won't happen?
Grover Norquist: The debate over the proper size of government and how to get economic growth is probably going to continue for the next 50, 60, 100 years. We're not going to have a final determination. But I think that we'll have a start at getting this done before the end of the year. A lot of it's up to Obama. I think he has a challenge. Remember four years ago he way overestimated his mandate. He thought that people had agreed to $800 billion in stimulus. Now he hadn't mentioned that in his campaign, but it was in his mind and he thought they'd agreed to it. So he did it. He went from 70 percent approval rating to down below 50 in a matter of months. He had a million people in the streets around April 15th. That's never happened before. And all because he overestimated, misjudged his mandate. Four years later it's doing it exactly again. With one change. Now he's spending too much money and he's raising taxes. I didn't think four years ago you could get the Tea Party going. It cost him the House of Representatives. He spent too much. You have spend too much and tax increases, and you'll see serious -
Bob Schieffer: What will be...what can people who break it, if that's necessary in their view to get this done, what will be your response to them?
Grover Norquist: Look, we don't need to raise taxes to solve this problem. And I think Republicans have made it clear they want to rein in spending. They keep looking for Obama to show up at the table with something written down. Obama's been AWOL since we started this conversation. He's put nothing on the table. The head of the Senate, Reid, says they're not going to do entitlement reform. Dick Durbin says they're not going to do entitlement reform, which was sort of the agreement on what we were all talking about. So they're kind of walking away from the table while asking the Republicans to make all sorts of concessions or just sort of, you know, when the other team has announced they're not putting anything on the table. Obama's budget, the 2013 budget, counts as part of his savings $800 billion from not occupying Iraq for the next decade. Iraq kicked him out of the country. To include $800 billion in phony spending cuts and look the American people in the eye and say you're a grownup and a serious person? The other spending cuts are things that are already in law. There are no spending cuts in his budget. There's no reform of government, there's no spending restraints. It's all tax increases.
Bob Schieffer: So it sounds to me like you think nothing's going to happen. You say you think they'll sort of get us started here, but from your point of view it sounds like they haven't even begun?
Grover Norquist: Let me argue, if they have the negotiations in front of C-SPAN, if the product is online for seven days, I believe you'll get a good product. I believe you'll get serious spending restraint. I think you could get tax reform that raises revenue through economic growth. But only if the American people watch it happening and can see it at the end of the day. If it's in a dark room with a bunch of lobbyists in the room, you'll get a mess and it won't work and it will be ugly and we'll all be very unhappy. And then they'll show up and go, hurry up and sign this. And a bunch of congressmen and senators will be told that the world ends if you don't. I think it could be very messy if it's not transparent, if there isn't time to think about it after it's written down. Or it could go very well. I trust the American people to watch what's going on.
Bob Schieffer: Let's just say nothing happens. Do you think what we're hearing about, that the country will go into recession and a lot of really dire predictions, what do you think will happen if there is no agreement?
Grover Norquist: The challenge is we're going into a recession anyway. All of the ugly parts of Obamacare are deliberately put in to take effect after the election. There are five tax increases that hit in January that has nothing to do with the fiscal cliff. Five Obamacare tax increases that are hundreds of billions of dollars on medical devices, on people's investments, on people's income, all of those taxes hit after Obama got reelected. And all the regulations that they didn't tell you about before the election - surprise! They're now piling out like clowns out of a circus car now. So there's a lot of ugly, bad, damaging stuff for the economy coming out over the next two to four years. And nothing to help the economy. So you add to that the possibility that Obama would actually drive us over the cliff and raise taxes, that would be even worse. But we're, if you even just extend it out of the Bush tax cuts, we're still in trouble because of the regulatory explosion.
Bob Schieffer: Alright, Grover Norquist, thank you for being on "Face to Face."
Grover Norquist: Thank you.
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