The Corner

Grover Norquist Needs Better Help

In a post notable mostly for its risible self-regard, lobbyist/tax preparer Ryan Ellis of Americans for Tax Reform declares that NRO has “ceased to be a serious website” because it has published the thoughts of Andrew Stuttaford and yours truly.

“ATR is the most influential and important tax-focused conservative group,” he writes. “That means we’re in charge of the tax issue.” Harrumph harrumph. Can we vote on that? Because I do not think he needs to be in charge of splitting up a lunch bill. Andrew doesn’t need me defending him, but I will note for the record that he actually makes a living in the financial business and knows a thing or two about counting money and European economies,  and has never to my knowledge declared his own importance as though it were an argument.

Ellis also writes that Governor Daniels’s position was “outside those bounds” defined by himself and ATR. Can we have a show of hands indicating who exactly cares? Daniels is an elected governor who is getting some useful things done and who approaches the job with a welcome sense of sobriety. I’m not sure that a sub-Grover gets to tell him what’s in bounds or not. Debate is one thing; dictating to governors is another. (Would love to see him try that with Rick Perry.)

I myself do not favor a VAT; I’m a flat-income-tax guy, myself. But, as I always insist, taxes are secondary. Every dollar you spend is a dollar that has to be raised in taxes, eventually. There is no way around that, Sunshine. You can clap as hard as you want, but Tinkerbell still has to fill out a 1040. Can I imagine a universe in which a VAT is preferable to our current system? Yes, I can. But the problem is not the engineering of the revenue code — it is spendthrift congressmen of both parties.

So, no, I don’t favor a VAT. But I also do not favor letting conservatives’ position be defined by magical thinking — magical thinking of precisely the sort that already has destroyed the Republican party’s credibility on fiscal restraint and has undermined the conservative movement’s credibility in the process. The GOP has been listening to the likes of ATR for a generation, buying into the canard that they can do the feel-good stuff (cutting taxes) without worrying too much about the hard part (cutting spending). The results are all around you, and they are dismaying.

The fact that Mr. Ellis would use the word “apostasy” to describe my thinking and Andrew’s on the issue is telling: We’re supposed to accept his vision on faith, in spite of three decades’ worth of evidence (or more) that cutting taxes while allowing spending to run wild is a recipe for ruination.

Ryan Ellis can stamp his feet all day, but the evidence speaks for itself: Santa Claus is no fiscal conservative, and no model of responsible governance. Taxing and spending are the same issue, and Ellis is on the wrong side of it.

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