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June 15, 2011 8:00 AM Why Grover Norquist’s bad day matters

By Steve Benen

At first blush, the proceedings on the Senate floor yesterday afternoon may have seemed rather routine. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) pushed a measure to end nearly $6 billion a year in tax subsidies for ethanol, and as expected, the effort came up far short. Coburn’s proposal needed 60 votes, and it got 40.

But there’s a much larger significance to this that’s worth appreciating. Under the rules of Republican politics, as dictated by Grover Norquist and his anti-tax “pledge,” voting to end industry tax subsidies counts as support for a tax increase — a step GOP lawmakers are supposed to never take under any circumstances. And yet, yesterday, 34 Republicans voted to cut ethanol breaks anyway.

Ryan Grim and Elise Foley said the move “is likely to have significant repercussions on the debate over spending, revenue and the federal deficit.”

[T]he break with [Norquist] has major implications for the debt ceiling negotiations going on just off the Senate floor Tuesday with Vice President Joe Biden. Republicans are insisting that any measure that increases revenue be off the table. But ending ethanol subsidies is a way of increasing revenue….

As we’ve discussed many times, some Republicans are willing to parse the meaning of the word “revenue.” GOP officials are demanding a deal to address the debt they created, and they’re demanding that tax rates remain exactly as they are now. But many Republicans haven’t ruled out the possibility of additional revenue as part of a compromise, and the notion of ending some subsidies is on the table. Uber-activist Norquist thinks it counts as a tax increase, but the GOP increasingly disagrees, which is evidence of at least some progress.

And if Republicans accept additional revenue as part of a debt-reduction deal, the likelihood of a less-insane compromise increases. The more the GOP stops taking orders from Norquist and his ilk, the more constructive the process becomes.

So, that’s the good news. The bad news is, it only looks like good news because the radicalism of the Republican position has become so commonplace. As Ezra noted this morning, “Instead of revenues being an assumed part of a deficit deal, with the only question being how much of the deal they make up, the question has become whether Republicans will accept any revenues at all in the deficit deal. Including any new revenues at all has been framed as a major concession for the Republicans, which means it’s easier for Republicans to include far less revenue in total. And no matter how you look at it, that’s a win for Grover Norquist.”

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • c u n d gulag on June 15, 2011 8:15 AM:

    Who'd have thought that this guy, named after two beloved Sesame Street characters - 'Grover' and "The Swedish Chef" Norquist would turn out to be such a nasty piece of work.

    He us the utlimate Republican/Conservative apparatchik.

    This man may, in some ways, be more responsible than anyone else for the devolution of this country from a proseperous one, to one bordering on 3rd World status.

    Of course, there is also a lot of blame for the flying monkey's all around the country, in the government they claim to loathe, who follow the orders that this Wicked Warlock of Washington send out.
    But, they'll just tell you, "I vax jusst vollowing zee orderz..."

    And, as other have said before, "Who elected Grover Norquist?"

  • hell's littlest angel on June 15, 2011 8:15 AM:

    OK, I didn't pay much attention to this story. Can anyone explain why it got so few Democratic votes? Republicans got to put on a show of willingness to compromise without having to put their money where their mouths are. Democrats got to create a sound bite for their Republican opponents to use in ads in next year's election. I don't get it.

  • Holmes on June 15, 2011 8:33 AM:

    Republicans knew this wouldn't pass, which is why they introduced the bill in an objectionable(to Dems) way.

    They also know that the alternative energy bill they voted on in the House, which allows some alternative energy initiatives--all on public lands--is just a way to open up oil drilling on said public lands.

    Norquist should have went to jail with Abramoff.

  • Rich on June 15, 2011 9:00 AM:

    Norquist's shadowy role as an unelected bully has been well known to politics junkies for many years, but not to the public. There needs to be more of an effort to push him and his undemocratic influence as a debate point. the same is true of the cult of Ayn Rand--present here and her following for what they are, a bunch of crazy Scientologists or Moonies.

  • Texas Aggie on June 15, 2011 9:11 AM:

    If removing subsidies counts as a tax increase, why doesn't removing food stamps, unemployment benefits, and all the rest of it count as a tax increase?

  • AngryOldVet on June 15, 2011 9:31 AM:

    So Why The F*ck did the dumbocraps vote against eliminating subsidies?

    The value to the ethanol subsidies is that they increase the incomes of the corporate farmers and Archer Daniels Midland!

    The biggest cost is that these subsidies drive up the prices of grains and add to the cost of food!

    What they do not do is add any value to the long term reduction of greenhouse gases!!!

  • Athena on June 15, 2011 9:39 AM:

    @Texas Aggie - Excellent point!

    @AngryOldVet - So true.

  • captcrisis on June 15, 2011 10:31 AM:

    Why didn't Democrats vote for this???

    Somebody please explain.

  • Doug on June 15, 2011 9:30 PM:

    If the polls can be believed, the GOP's plans for the budget, Medicare, SS and just about everything else are opposed by a majority of voters, in some categories even a majority of REPUBLICANS oppose the GOP's plans. I'm guessing that those who voted against the subsidies are more worried about financing their next campaign than incurring the Wrath of Norquist.
    It's interesting to see some Republican/Teabagger politicians putting their political careers ahead of Norquist's orthodxy, it may be a first. Hopefully, it's not the last...

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