Behind the feverish pace of daily meetings, press conferences, statements--and even some negotiations-- on the fiscal cliff, a long-time Washington power player has emerged as what many say is an unnecessary roadblock. With his famously ironclad "TaxPayer Protection Pledge" Grover Norquist, the President of Americans for Tax Reform, is credited as being the man who has kept the Republican party unified against the idea of any new taxes.
And as Congressional Republicans and Democrats work with the White House to find a solution to the fiscal cliff combination of scheduled tax cut expirations and spending cuts going into effect, a key component of any deal, according to Democrats, will have to be some form of new tax revenue. That revenue could come either as increased rates, most likely on the wealthiest Americans, ending deductions, or a combination of both. Norquist says not so fast.
"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 ten-to-one 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," said Norquist in an interview with Bob Schieffer for CBS News's "Face to Face."
He compares the situation now to 2010 when Democrats and Republicans struck a deal to extend all of the Bush-era tax cuts. Then as now, he says the economy is struggling too much to see any taxes go up.
"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," he said.
Sticking to his principles, Norquist, who founded his group at the request of President Ronald Reagan, says that tax revenue is not the problem facing the country.
"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," he told Schieffer.
While spending bills are famous for pork barrel earmarks and every lobbyist in Washington has a hand in any tax reform legislation, Norquist suggests the best way to solve the problem is to make the debate public.
"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?" he said. "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," he added - so voters and politicians alike can fully understand what is being voted on.
But no matter what solution ultimately is or isn't voted on, Norquist says the country is heading into a recession. He told Schieffer the President's health care plan includes five tax increases set to hit in January, as well as "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." The combination of these tax increases and regulations, Norquist said, leaves the country in trouble, even if lawmakers extend the Bush tax cuts.