Did Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist endorse a $4 trillion tax hike? That is what The Washington Post and Democrats want you to believe. Here is the section of the WaPo editorial causing a stir:
Would allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire as scheduled in 2012 violate this vow? We posed this question to Grover Norquist, its author and enforcer, and his answer was both surprising and encouraging: No.
In other words, according to Mr. Norquist’s interpretation of the Americans for Tax Reform pledge, lawmakers have the technical leeway to bring in as much as $4 trillion in new tax revenue — the cost of extending President George W. Bush’s tax cuts for another decade — without being accused of breaking their promise. “Not continuing a tax cut is not technically a tax increase,” Mr. Norquist told us. So it doesn’t violate the pledge? “We wouldn’t hold it that way,” he said.
ATR has since put out a clarification that reads:
ATR opposes all tax increases on the American people. Any failure to extend or make permanent the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, in whole or in part, would clearly increase taxes on the American people. In addition, the failure to extend the AMT patch would increase taxes. The outlines of the plans are deliberately hazy, but it appears that both Obama’s Simpson-Bowles commission proposal and the Gang-of-Six proposal dramatically increase taxes on the American people.
How can the Norquist quote in the editorial and the later ATR statement be reconciled? Easy. The 2001 and 2003 tax cuts are set to expire automatically. Tax rates are scheduled to rise without any votes. And the ATR pledge is only used to score how Members of Congress vote. All Norquist was saying was that his organization is not about to start punishing pledge signers for non-existent votes. Contra the Post there never was any change in ATR policy.