The ‘Taxpayer Pledge’ Is a Catalyst for Change
An Interview with Mr. Grover Norquist


We spoke with Mr. Grover Norquist, an advocate for small government in America, on how to succeed in preventing government bodies from growing too large.

Interviewer: Hanako Cho

Grover G. Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR)

Mr. Grover G. Norquist was born in 1956. After graduating from Harvard University, he has founded the ATR at the request of President Reagan, and has been active as the leader of the American taxpayer protection movement. In 1993 he launched his Wednesday Meetings series for conservatives in Washington D.C. and contributed significantly to the Republican victory in the 1994 Republican Revolution. He congratulated Trump after his victory in the 2016 presidential election on his website, and played a significant role in the White House and Congress tax cut policy of 2017.


The Republican Campaign Need to Focus on Biden’s Economic Failure

Q: It seems like key financial issues such as tax cuts are not being discussed in the presidential campaign. How do you see the role of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) in it?

Norquist: You put your finger exactly on the right question. And that is, the Republicans would do well to focus this election on Biden’s inflation, a 16% decline in the value of the dollar since Biden took office. We had low inflation. Now we have high inflation. The slow pace of the recovery compared to what should have happened. The tax increases that he passed, and the tax increases that he threatens to pass.

Biden says he wants to take the American business tax higher than China. Why? Why would you ever do something like that? I mean, it’s really ridiculous. We should look at his spending. The trillions that he passed in spending saying, this is an emergency. He wanted to quickly pass the bill. There was no emergency that required the bill to pass unexamined as it was. He said, quick, quick, quick, because he didn’t want you to read it. Not because the money was going to be spent immediately. He doesn’t want the election on his policies or his capabilities. He would very much love to have the election be about Trump complaining about the last election.

No one in American politics has ever won a second election whilst complaining about a previous election. That’s not something people vote for. They vote for progress. They vote for good ideas. They vote for the future. They don’t vote for, ‘I’m unhappy. Please make me happy.’ If this election is about Trump’s feelings about the 2020 election, he’ll lose. There are more negatives on him than positives. If this election is about Biden’s damaging economy, and Trump’s successful economy up until Covid, then Trump or any Republican wins. Trump can win if he focuses on Biden’s bad government and the three or four things that he worked on doing, that he wants to do again that would make the economy better.

I don’t think [Americans] will be deceived into thinking Biden has been a good president. What they can get distracted by, is Trump always talking about the past and new charges coming up. And because the Democrats are running the Justice Department, they could time those exactly as they want to, to affect the next election. It’s a very difficult project for Trump to run – especially when people behind rocks can throw something at your head any time and you have no control. Then the headline the next day is, ‘Trump indicted again’. Not, ‘Trump presents tax policy’. It’ll all be about Trump’s travails on legal stuff. It’s not impossible for Trump to focus on Biden’s problems. He focused on Hillary’s, and he won the vote, even though they’re an awful lot of people who didn’t like him. He convinced them that Hillary was a bigger problem.

Q: You said that if Trump focuses on his own achievements, he could win next year’s election. How can Republicans take advantage of Biden’s failure with regards to economic policy?

Norquist: Repetition, repetition, repetition. One of the things that’s difficult for presidents to understand is that when he says something once, he thinks the whole world heard it because it was on TV. Some people were off getting a sandwich. Sometimes they don’t listen, but only with half an ear to the news as it goes by. [Trump] needs to focus on inflation, high taxes, regulation and on the energy costs, energy costs, energy costs. If Biden is so proud that he brought the energy costs up, and he can’t say that out loud. He’s supposed to make it sound like it’s a disaster.

So, focusing on it, repeating it and never saying anything else. If you say three things, you allow the people in the media to decide, ‘Which of the three things did you give a speech about today?’ ‘Biden spends too much. Biden creates inflation. I’m mad about 2000.’ Headline: ‘Trump mad about 2000’.

Reagan had five speeches in the 1980 campaign, standard speeches that made all his points. Slightly different directions, five different ones. You could hear him several times in that same speech. But he would change one sentence in the speech. The news of the day would be the one-sentence change. They were written to not give them anything to get their hands on to wrestle with. You cannot give the press more than one thing to respond to. They will choose the one you want.

── That sounds like a great strategy for President Trump to win.

Norquist: That’s a great strategy for lots of people. Trump’s not the only guy who misses that sometimes.


Countering Inflated Government Spending With ‘Economic Growth and Progress on Healthcare’

Q: We are primarily concerned about government spending, and the situation is actually very much worse here in Japan especially after Covid. What’s your take on an inflated government?

Norquist: [The United States] saw the growth in government spending coming a long time ago. We thought because of entitlements, social security, Medicare and Medicaid were on automatic pilot. Congress doesn’t vote them in every year. All they do is agree the budget. At some point, that eats up all the revenue in the country because it’s growing faster than the economy. You go out 50, 70 years, everything falls apart.

Biden is an enthusiast for more spending. He’s pushing for more spending. His people are pushing for more spending. We are getting to a point where it’s not sustainable. We have a level of inflation that could increase. Under Jimmy Carter, we had inflation rates that gave you double digit, 10%, 11% inflation. 20% interest rates. That was really bad; and that could happen again.

The question is, who will be president when that happens? Nobody wants to do that. But everybody knows we have to fix entitlements.

Q: Some people say that we don’t have to worry about entitlements if you have economic growth. What do you think about this?

Norquist: If you have strong economic growth, all of the problems are further into the future. Our economy was growing in 2019 when the tax cut kicked in. If you’re growing at 7% for 10 years, the economy would double every 10 years which is exactly where the United States ought to be. It’s exactly where we can be. It’s where we would be if we hadn’t had Covid. So, growth is very helpful.

The other is that there are new drugs that are just coming up that we knew would be there. For example, there’s a drug that controls appetite which means all of the problems that flow from obesity are now potentially manageable. We can cut something like one-third of the cost of medical care with a pill. If everybody who needed a kidney transplant could get one in the United States, that saves about $40 billion a year. There’s a lot of money that can be spent with some technology and more transplants that would buy you some time too.

[Economic] growth and progress on healthcare means the crisis isn’t here, but still out there. The sooner we begin to take the cost curves down, we [can] move social security to 67 instead of 65.


Offering Free Money: Less Incentive for People to Work

Q: One thing that we’re very concerned about is that the number of Americans in their prime ages who really want to work are decreasing. I think that’s a very big economic issue for the United States.

Norquist: When people talk about the unemployment rate, it’s of everyone who’s looking. How many people haven’t found anything? That rate’s down by 4% which sounds pretty good. But if you’ve gone on welfare and you’re not looking [for a job] anymore, or if you’ve got a disability, you’re not unemployed.

There are more Medicare or food stamps going around to people who didn’t have it before. Now, that’s beginning to decline now, and you saw it when unemployment insurance ran out. People went back to work – but not everybody. People on cash welfare, food stamps and who have healthcare from the government may decide, ‘I can go fishing. Why would I work?’ Or, ‘Maybe I work in black market? Why would I tell anybody? I don’t have to work a lot of black market. I just have to make a little more money because I’m getting free food and other healthcare.’ As long as there was a hammock to sleep on, they didn’t want to hear about working.


Question Government’s ‘Civil Interference’

Norquist: The bottom 40% of U.S. wage earners get an average of $47,000 a year from the government, which is as much as some European countries per person. That is not reported by individuals as income. It’s all income. I think everybody should have to report to the world if they get a check from the government and you didn’t pay for it. One, it would stop the whining from people who say they never get anything. Two, I’m sorry but if you’re making $30,000, $40,000 a year [in welfare], you should be paying taxes. Welfare like that should not be tax free. So, [we need to] have transparency on who’s getting what and why.

Maybe some of these programs are too easy to exploit, to cheat. Maybe some of them are effective. We don’t know until you call the number down. So, step one is, stop handing out cash.

The other one is this: if a company or a group needs help, the question I would always ask is, ‘What is the government doing to make this a problem for them?’ Then, spend some time reducing their regulations and their taxes and making sure they have rule of law.

There are two ways to solve those problems. One is to get the government out of the way. The other one is to throw money at it and say we solve the problem. I don’t want to throw money at it and say we solved them. I want to figure out what are the things the government does that causes this problem. Stop doing them.

If you came back and the guy is still on the floor bleeding, you might decide, ‘Okay, this is different and we’ll take care of it.’ But we should start with a prejudice for reducing counterproductive actions.


How To Make Politicians Keep Their Promise to Cut Taxes? Have Them Sign the Pledge

Q: How do we get politicians to keep their promise?

Norquist: George Bush won the presidency having said, ‘Read my lips, no new taxes,’ which he said in front of the Republican National Convention. Then, he broke his promise two years later. He raised taxes. Then, he lost.

Now, Bush was a successful president. He managed the collapse of the Soviet Union without a lot of blood on the floor. He kicked Iraq out of Kuwait without sticking around for 25 years to watch. One problem is by raising taxes and breaking his promise, he lost to [Democratic] Bill Clinton in the 1992 election.

As Bush showed, it doesn’t do any good to say, ‘I won’t raise taxes.’ You have to put it in writing. That’s what the [Taxpayer Protection Pledge] does. If it’s not in writing, politicians go, ‘Oh, did I raise taxes? Well, when I said I wouldn’t raise taxes in my speech, I also said I really love education. So, there was an exception for raising taxes for education or wars.’

As long as there are exceptions, you didn’t make a promise. And as long as it’s verbal, you can always say, ‘Well, that day, I said this off the cuff.’ Because nobody has a copy of his speech. The pledge is completely independent of anything else you do. You don’t get to add to what the pledge means.

Q: As of July end, 1,040 people including former President Trump, Mr. Vivek Ramaswamy, state governors and members of Congress have signed the pledge. Will taking the pledge help the next campaign for Republican candidates?

Norquist: Yes, absolutely. The pledge will continue to be a very important part of governor’s races, state legislative races and congressional races. The Republican presidential candidates are all taking the pledge. I think we’ll have all of them by the time we get closer to the election. We may get one Democrat [to sign the pledge], Robert F. Kennedy. He says he wants to take the pledge. That would be the first presidential candidate we’ve had for the Democrats. Biden will never sign the pledge. He wants to raise taxes.

Now, at the state level, two-thirds of all the Republican governors have signed the pledge. The state fights are being dominated by people’s positions on taxes. States like Texas, Florida and Tennessee have no state income tax at all. People move to these states. Then, the following states have a governor and a legislature that says, ‘We’re going to take our state tax to zero over 10 years’: Kentucky, West Virginia and North Carolina. South Carolina just started, but they announced they’re going to zero [state income tax]. The Republican made the commitment when he ran, and the Democrat he beat also agreed to go to zero. That’s a bipartisan agreement there.

Also, one that we see a lot when we travel around is a group that’s pushing for school choice. Home schooling is part of that, but education savings accounts are going around. We’ve got 14 states that have passed education savings accounts where, if you want to take your kid to one school, half the money that the state spends for your kids can go with you. That’s going very well. We have 14 states that have acted. Texas isn’t one of them, but we expect Texas [to pass the bill] this year. [This movement is] all very much ending the government monopoly on education, sending money with the child to whatever school system, they wound up going to. It’s good stuff.


1994, A Revolution for ‘Smaller Government’

Norquist: We also need Republican control of Congress. Congress runs America. Presidents start wars, they have affairs, they can delay bills by vetoing them, but they cannot make anything happen. They can’t pass a bill. They can’t raise a tax. They can’t repeal a bill. Only a president plus Congress can do that.

Here’ a graph from 1933 to 2023 showing the control of the House and the Senate. You can see the House and the Senate were blue or Democrat most of the time. There were only two two-year terms when the Republicans had the House and the Senate. The Republican control of Congress lasted for four years out of 62 years. Now, you had Republicans at the local level, but in Washington, it was the Democrats. For 62 years, Democrats ran the country as a one-party state.

But look at the yellow line, 1994: that happens to be the year that the vast majority of Republicans signed the pledge never to raise taxes and kept it.

When Clinton took office in 1992, his policies included health care reform and higher taxes. So, Congressman Newt Gingrich (elected Speaker of the House after the midterm elections) and I saw this and drafted the “Contract with America” which denounces higher taxes and advocates for smaller government. We continued to spread this message throughout the nation, and American citizens saw through the administration’s true identity, that it is “big government,” which garnered public support for the Republican pledge. In 1994, 96% of Republicans said, ‘You know what? I’m never ever going to raise taxes.’ The midterm elections reflected the Americans’ desire for smaller government, and later, Congress achieved a balanced budget.

So since ’94, over here, we see the Republicans have won the House and the Senate more than half the time. The Republicans have controlled Congress much more often than the Democrats. No taxes were increased as long as the Republicans had Congress. This shows you that the party that will not raise taxes can be the governing party. The party that will raise taxes, they’re all over the board. It doesn’t protect you.

Q: My final question is, the last time you spoke with us, you spoke about the importance of small government. Could you touch on the relationship between small government and freedom, liberty?

Norquist: Sure. In the U.S., our constitution has a list of things the federal government can do. They can have a judiciary. They can have an army. They can have a navy. And they can have an income tax. But everything that’s not on that list is reserved for the states and the people. So, the constitution is supposed to limit what the government could do.

If you want the federal government to do something new, like have an income tax, that was the Sixteenth Amendment passed around 1913. It was a bad idea. Rather than just raising an income tax and not caring whether it was constitutional, they amended the constitution. Congress was very clear on which tax is okay and which tax is not. You want to keep government within the bounds of the constitution. That’s step one. Then, of course, even within the bounds of the constitution, you don’t have to bankrupt yourself just because you’re doing something. You should still care about how much is being spent.

The trick is, government outside of the constitution is not really legitimate in the U.S. Government outside the constitution gets into all sorts of problems. When the government’s giving people money, you get corruption. When they’re taking people’s money or telling people what they can and can’t do, you get corruption because people pay to be left alone. You shouldn’t have to pay to be left alone; people should be left alone. This remains the key issue that surrounds the divides, the Republicans and the Democrats. Every Democrat in Congress would raise your taxes tomorrow if they [could] get away with it. And every Republican would vote against that.

── That’s the core idea that unites the Republicans.

Norquist: It’s a core idea among Republicans. We’re not going to raise your taxes. I think that’s an important part of the Republican Party gaining more seats.

── Thank you so much.

The ‘Taxpayer Pledge’ Is a Catalyst for Change
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