It's Time to Take the Anti-Norquist Pledge

Like all Americans, I yearn for a simplified tax code, and I stand second to no citizen in my passion for tax reform. My wife and I between us possess the following graduate degrees: Ph.D., M.Phil., two M.A.s and a J.D. from reputable institutions -- so grant that we are of at least median intelligence. Yet we can't manage to do our tax returns correctly without professional assistance. I assure you, I strongly believe in tax reform. But Grover Norquist's misleadingly-named Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) has absolutely nothing to do with tax reform.

Norquist, president and founder of ATR, is famous for the polarizing 'tax reform' pledge (the 'Norquist Pledge') he badgers politicians into signing -- under penalty of designating them anti-tax reform. The current version of this pledge states that signers will:

  • ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses; and
  • TWO, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.

Norquist even emphasizes that the pledge has no exceptions for war, natural disaster, or other misfortunes. For example, a signer of the Norquist Pledge isn't permitted to vote to increase tax rates on America's 1% -- even if such changes would be revenue neutral, and/or are desperately needed for a national emergency. Our current marginal tax rates reflect random political compromises, so why they should be set in stone for the coming decades is not clear to me.

At last count, 238 Members of the House of Representatives and 41 Senators committed to the Norquist Pledge. Republican Presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have also signed the pledge -- which is binding for a politician's entire term in office.

The Norquist Pledge has nothing to do with tax reform as understood by most American taxpayers. For example, the majority of Americans favor increasing -- rather than capping -- the marginal tax rates of the top 1%. (By the way, ATR -- a tax-exempt institution -- pays no taxes on its annual revenues of about $5 million per year, according to ATR tax forms.) Mr. Norquist's real goal (explained in his other writings) is to substantially shrink the size of government.

I oppose the Norquist Pledge for (at least) two reasons:

  1. ATR is a misleading, Orwellian assault on our language: ATR is entitled to a view that tax revenues should be capped, or that the '1%' shouldn't pay more taxes -- but they should call themselves Americans for Flat Tax, Americans for Limited Government, or anything which describes their real goals.
  2. We need compromise, not gridlock: The Norquist Pledge was directly responsible for the near default of the U.S. government, and contributes to the acrimonious political atmosphere we all suffer from. The American Bill of Rights and the Constitution are core non-negotiable commitments every American has the right to insist our politicians pledge to defend and protect. But pledges to not raise marginal tax rates on the top '1%' make normal compromise and negotiation impossible.

To counter this harmful situation, I propose the American Citizen's Anti-Norquist Pledge:

  1. As an American citizen, I hereby irrevocably commit that I will not support, contribute to or vote for any politicians who have signed the Norquist Pledge, unless they publicly renounce that pledge.
  2. As a shareholder of any American corporation, I pledge to oppose any corporate contributions to ATR and to vote against any corporate management using corporate funds to support ATR.
  3. As a consumer, I will not knowingly purchase goods and services from corporations that support the Norquist Pledge.
Finally, I would welcome your comments:
  • Do you agree the Norquist Pledge is harmful to our country?
  • If you agree that the Norquist Pledge is harmful, would you be willing to sign the Anti-Norquist Pledge?
  • What else could we do to reverse the Norquist Pledge?

If you would like updates on the creation of the Anti-Norquist Pledge, and other topics, please follow me on twitter: @Steven_Strauss.

Steven Strauss was founding Managing Director of the Center for Economic Transformation at the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC). He is an Advanced Leadership Fellow at Harvard University for 2011-2012. He has a Ph.D. in Management from Yale University.