"Grover Norquist Did Not Elect You": Republicans in Disarray Over Online Sales Taxes

Online shopping website
Online shopping website

Republicans are in disarray over a proposal that would allow state and local governments to require online retailers to collect sales taxes on internet sales.

Republicans in disarray. What a great way to start the day!

But give them credit, a good number of them are actually going to vote for something that would allow government to raise more revenues -- not through raising taxes but actually collecting taxes that are already supposed to be paid. While giving them credit, please feel free, however, to take a full measure of glee and schadenfreude over the internal bickering that appears to have left Grover Norquist on the losing end of the argument. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

Norquist is the author of a "pledge" according to which the signatory will never, ever, ever (cross my heart... ) raise taxes in any way shape or form. Howard Fineman characterized him as: "the bearded, Harvard-trained ayatollah of the anti-tax movement."

What's happening is that the brick-and-mortar retailers have finally begun to put pressure on their individual Representatives and Senators. They've made the wholly logical argument that it's absurd for someone to be able to avoid paying taxes on a product based on where he or she buys it. They've been telling the story of how countless customers come into their establishment, shop around, get the price of an item and the product number and all the details, and then buy it online to avoid paying taxes. Meanwhile, the store owner has provided a real service at significant cost and has nothing to show for it.

Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) got an earful about a St. Louis bridal store, where, speaking of such customers: "They use the parking lot. They use the sidewalk. They benefit from police protection, and then the local merchant who pays for all of that doesn't get the sale."

Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) is against the proposal. Why? Simple. New Hampshire doesn't have a sales tax, so her local merchants don't have this problem.

The final vote on the proposal in the Senate is set for May 6, and it appears likely to win about 75 votes. Then on to the House, where it also has significant Republican support from Representatives such as Scott Rigell of Virginia, Austin Scott of Georgia, and Steve Womack of Arkansas, who wrote the House's version of the bill. Womack explained:

"I have a lot of constituents saying to me, 'Grover Norquist did not elect you,'...Members that come to Washington and kowtow to special interests end up contributing to this very polarized government. These are tough decisions we have to make up here."

Norquist, on the other hand, has called the proposal the "Let People in Alabama Loot People in New York Act." Clever. He hasn't come right out and called it a tax increase, because people are already supposed to be paying sales tax in their states and localities on internet sales. But that's a fine distinction. Norquist doesn't like it because his fundamental goal remains to "reduce [government] to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub." On the Internet sales bill, Norquist complained: "It reduces the pressure on governments to offer the best services at the lowest cost." Norquist always wants government to have as little revenue as possible. Period. Starve the beast.

But Rep. Scott for one is ready to take on Grover, irrespective of any beasts that may be out there: "I'm a co-signer of [Norquist's] pledge. I'm a co-signer of the legislation. We have to collect the taxes that are due."

Any issue that has Tea Party Senators like Ron Johnson (R-WI) and establishment conservative Senators like John Thune (R-SD) on the winning side, and Norquist and the Heritage Foundation opposing them on the losing side is one that is clearly causing damage to Republican cohesion. Don't get me wrong, this bill is right on the merits. Internet giants like Amazon.com do not deserve protection against mom-and-pop stores. But stories of Republicans in disarray, well, that's the kind of icing on top that makes any cake all the more delicious.