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Since 1986, incumbents and candidates for state and federal office have been asked to sign the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, in which they promise not to vote to raise taxes. In the latest lively installment of the American Enterprise Debates series, Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, the architect of the pledge, and Ross Douthat of the New York Times argued the merits of the pledge and its effects on US government. Norquist pointed out that the Taxpayer Protection Pledge has kept Republicans from voting for tax increases for nearly two decades. While Norquist conceded that the pledge is imperfect, he contended that it is tightly worded and clear, making it enforceable through the democratic process. Douthat countered by pointing out that while conservatives have consistently held down tax rates, they have done little to control their spending. The resulting policy environment is hyperpartisan and feeds mounting deficits that eventually translate into tax increases. The two found common ground on the idea that spending and taxes should both fall, but in the end remained split about whether a “starve the beast” approach to shrinking government was viable.
--- Daniel Hanson
In the next American Enterprise Debate, Grover Norquist, founder of Americans for Tax Reform, will argue that the Taxpayer Protection Pledge is an effective bulwark against tax increases. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat will counter with his claim that the tax pledge has created political gridlock that threatens to derail serious tax reform and deficit reduction. AEI research fellow and former chief economist to the House Ways and Means Committee Alex Brill will moderate.
ALEX BRILL, AEI
GROVER NORQUIST, Americans for Tax Reform
ROSS DOUTHAT, New York Times
ALEX BRILL, AEI
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Grover G. Norquist has been one of most effective issues management strategists in Washington for three decades. Mr. Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), a taxpayer advocacy group he founded in 1985 at President Reagan’s request. ATR is a coalition of taxpayer groups, individuals and businesses opposed to higher taxes at the federal, state and local levels. ATR organizes the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, which asks all candidates for federal and state office to commit in writing to oppose all tax increases. In the 112th Congress, 238 House members and 41 Senators have taken the pledge. On the state level, 13 governors and 1,249 state legislators have taken the pledge.
Ross Douthat joined the New York Times as an op-ed columnist in April 2009. Previously, he was a senior editor at the Atlantic and a blogger for theatlantic.com. He is the author of Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class (Hyperion, 2005), and the co-author, with Reihan Salam, of Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream (Doubleday, 2008). He is the film critic for National Review.
Alex Brill, a former senior adviser and chief economist to the House Ways and Means Committee, also served on the staff of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers (CEA). In Congress and at the CEA, Mr. Brill worked on a variety of economic and legislative policy issues, including dividend taxation, the alternative minimum tax, international tax policy, social security reform, defined benefit pension reform and U.S. trade policy. At AEI, Mr. Brill studies the impact of tax policy on the U.S. economy; the fiscal, economic and political consequences of stimulus legislation; health care reform; pharmaceutical spending; unemployment insurance reform; and financial innovation and technology.