According to an interview Grover Norquist gave the Washington Post, he's just a sober, smart-guy type, not prone to standing outside the Capitol demanding things. Except when he did that on Monday, apparently.
Norquist, the head of Americans for Tax Reform, creators of the legislative no-tax pledge, gave the interview to the Post's Ezra Klein playing off that well-honed image of a wise elder statesman of the conservative right. He used the moment to criticize the current predicament of congressional Republicans — especially the role played by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, whose insistence on defunding Obamcare "pushed House Republicans into traffic."
Norquist complained about Cruz and, without naming them, the Heritage Foundation, with which Cruz toured the country criticizing Obamacare this summer. Norquist used the interview (which is very interesting and well worth a read) to contrast such activism with his own efforts.
Unlike some other institutions in this town, I work to give some reasonable advice to members of Congress and shape public opinion. I don’t micromanage the negotiations of House and Senate guys with the White House or stand outside the negotiations and announce somebody should lay down a nonnegotiable demand with a tactic and a date attached to it.
On Monday, Norquist said something else. On that day, September 30, Congress was playing what's come to be known as "CR ping-pong," with the House proposing funding measures loaded with qualifiers, and the Senate stripping out the House's qualifiers and sending them back.
One particularly contentious proposal came from Louisiana Sen. David Vitter. Vitter championed that amendment as removing a special exemption for Congress, forcing them to accept coverage under Obamacare (technically, the Affordable Care Act). In reality, the amendment would have simply removed the co-pay members of Congress and their staffs receive for insurance coverage which will already transition to coverage provided through one of the exchanges set up under the Affordable Care Act. It was nearly universally excoriated, including by conservative outlets.
At a press conference on Monday, Vitter called for the amendment to be adopted, to treat Washington "like the rest of America." Klein himself explained why that clearly isn't the case in an article last week. And yet there was Norquist on Monday, standing behind Vitter, offering his own words in support of the Vitter amendment which was scheduled for a floor vote in the House shortly afterward. (Norquist's segment starts at about the 7:30 mark in the video below.)
"We need to say that Washington should live by the same rules as the rest of the country — in Obamacare and in other things. This legislation and the leadership by the members here is very important and I think that if the American people focus on this, this is one of the things that even Harry Reid's Senate is going to have to agree to."
This was Norquist quite literally standing outside the negotiations and announcing that the House should lay down a demand with a tactic and a date attached to it. Two days ago. And it was a demand that Klein himself said "hurts taxpayers, fixes nothing."
Norquist built his reputation on this sort of mix, insisting that he is a sober analyst of fiscal policy to one audience and to another excoriating a government still too big to drown in a bathtub. Klein's new interview largely focuses on the politics, but also grants Norquist the space to opine on how the Republican party deals with economic issues. Vitter isn't mentioned.
Photo: Norquist, left, stands outside the Capitol with Republican senators including Vitter, right. (AP)