In a recent Los Angeles Times piece, Washington Bureau reporter Lisa Mascaro offers a tantalizing peek into a Republican Party now fractured into two warring factions: conservatives, and paint-eating tea partiers. Mascaro reports, “One of the most treasured tenets of the Republican Party — ‘No new taxes’ — has been thrown open to debate by a simple question: What, exactly, is a new tax?”
Bowing to public pressure, even staunch conservatives such as Oklahoma Republican Senator Tom Coburn have begun to begrudgingly acknowledge that corporate tax loopholes and special tax treatment such as ethanol subsidies are adding to the deficits they routinely decry. Coburn co-sponsored the amendment to eliminate ethanol subsidies, which passed Thursday but has little chance of actually becoming law, saying “The way we get out of trouble as a nation is a couple of billions of dollars at a time,” an uncommonly sensible remark from the ordinarily reckless Okie.
Anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist was not amused. The knuckle-dragging founder and president of the “taxpayer advocacy” group Americans for Tax Reform is perhaps most famous for saying “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” Americans for Tax Reform’s official position is that it “opposes all tax increases as a matter of principle,” and has issued several proclamations that closing loopholes and eliminating subsidies is equivalent to outright tax increases. Therefore, Norquist was hell-bent on holding Republican signers of the ATR’s “No Tax Pledge” to vote against the amendment. When Republicans broke ranks and defied him, Norquist was furious, going so far as to accuse Coburn of “lying his way into office.”
Eventually, Norquist was reduced to fashioning a fig leaf out of Sen. DeMint’s amendment to cut the estate tax, offering to absolve prodigal Republican defectors of their sins if they cut taxes elsewhere. This dismal gambit rests on reasoning even conservative Outside the Beltway columnist James Joyner derides as “idiotic.”
Those of us in the reality-based community can only be a bit heartened (and amused) to see small minded ideologues like Norquist rebuked by the GOP. As Robert Reich observed, Republicans are “desperate,” and “divided between those who want to bring down the budget deficit and those who want to shrink government.” It remains to be seen whether sanity will take root in the Republican Party, or whether this recent dust-up signals an all out civil war.
Either possibility is good news for America.
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