It’s not about Grover

Stop calling it “Grover Norquist’s tax pledge.”

As Congress debates the issues of tax revenue, debt reduction and government spending that we call “the fiscal cliff,” we are hearing news stories about the anti-tax pledge made to Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR).

ATR is a non-profit organization devoted to curtailing government spending by reducing the amount of taxes Americans pay. Grover Norquist, ATR’s founder, wants to increase Americans’ freedom by decreasing the portion of our income and resources the government takes from us.

Grover’s Wednesday meetings are a legendary weekly confluence of conservative organizations that share the goal of reducing the size and influence of government in our lives. By opening up a forum to diverse groups and individuals, he has increased his own influence.

A visit to the Wednesday meeting at ATR has become nearly obligatory for Republican aspirants to public office. When they come to Washington to introduce themselves to party officials, fundraisers and activists, a pilgrimage to ATR is a sine qua non because representatives from over 120 organizations attend regularly. Most of these are national organizations, with chapters in every congressional district.

People come to the meeting to present themselves, their platforms and their campaigns to the entire group, not just to Grover Norquist. They do this because they know that among the attendees are people who have tremendous influence in their state, congressional district or other electoral jurisdiction.

When candidates attend the meeting and make a pitch for their campaigns to the assembly, they are doing it because they know it will help them win over the activists and voters who will determine the outcome of their elections. They consider it an effective way to convince voters to support them. They sign the tax pledge because they believe it demonstrates their commitment to preserving American liberty.

The pledge itself is very simple. Formally known as the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, it consists of a single sentence:

“I, __________, pledge to the taxpayers of the __________ district of the state of __________, and to the American people that I will: ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses; and TWO, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.”

The signers promise simply that they will not vote for any net tax increase, either by increasing rates or eliminating or reducing deductions and credits. They recognize explicitly what every household knows by instinct: facing resource scarcity, we cannot always control our income, but we can always control our spending.

But it is important to note the wording of the pledge. The signers do not make any promise to Grover Norquist; they make their promises to their constituents and to the American people. Their commitment is to their voters, not to Grover. That is why they do it, and why they are reluctant to break that oath.