April 05, 2005,
EDITOR'S NOTE: This piece appears in the April 11, 2005, issue of National Review.
On November 5, 1990, the first President Bush signed a tax increase into law. The event is remembered as a betrayal of Bush's campaign promise not to raise taxes, and as the mistake that, in the opinion of many, cost him reelection two years later. But the date is important in the modern history of the Republican party for another reason. Since that time, no Republican in Washington, D.C., has voted for a broad-based tax increase.
We tend to think of the Republican party as a strongly anti-tax party, but that identity is a fairly recent development. It is also a work still in progress. Anti-tax activists took over the Republican party from the top layer down, in the same order that conservatives generally did. Conservatives captured the Republican presidential primaries first, then became a majority of House Republicans, then of Senate Republicans, and then started making inroads in the states. Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform has followed the same sequence in promoting his "taxpayer protection pledge," which asks candidates to promise not to raise marginal tax rates on income.
Norquist started circulating the pledge in 1986. Two years later, George Bush pulled ahead of Bob Dole in the presidential primaries by taking the pledge and bashing Dole for refraining. Every Republican presidential nominee since then, including Dole himself in 1996, has taken the pledge. Congressional Republicans have fallen into line. Not one of them, in either chamber, voted for Bill Clinton's 1993 tax increases. In the current Congress, 46 senators and 222 House members are pledge-takers. That's a majority of the House.
Norquist's group began working on governors and state legislators a decade after the pledge came to D.C. That's one reason the governors have lagged behind federal-level Republicans in embracing the party's new anti-tax orthodoxy. (It should be noted that cause and effect are entangled here: Norquist's campaign began in D.C. because the party there was receptive to it.)
It is in that context of a gradual movement toward opposition to tax increases, with the governors coming last that some recent tax-hiking moves by Republican governors should be seen. In recent months, Indiana governor Mitch Daniels has proposed a "temporary" tax increase on high earners to balance the state's budget. Colorado governor Bill Owens has proposed letting the state government keep part of a scheduled tax refund. Consequently, the Washington Post's Jim VandeHei sees a "pragmatic . . . trend playing out around the country," while in the Washington Monthly Daniel Franklin and A. G. Newmyer III have asked gleefully, "Is Grover Over?"
The short answer is no, he isn't. Neither is the broader anti-tax movement of which he is a part...
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