Grover Norquist: 'Field Marshal' of the Bush Plan
And more broadly, Norquist serves on the ten-person executive council of the Tax Relief Coalition, set up by the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Federation of Independent Businesses and the US Chamber of Commerce. More than 700 corporations and trade associations have joined the Tax Relief Coalition, with eighty paying $5,000 each to be part of its steering committee. The group divvies up responsibility for lobbying individual members of the House and Senate as individual pieces of the package move forward.
Norquist, despite his corporate backing, is no yes man to Big Business, and he recognizes that business interests and those of hard-core conservatives do not always coincide. (For instance, while Norquist and his allies would abolish the FDA, the big multinational drug companies regulated by the agency want only slightly looser oversight and would strongly oppose getting rid of it.) But he understands that on such issues as the tax cut, business support is vital. "There are times when their concerns and interests are in sync with the direction of the movement, and it's the movement's job to figure out who can be temporary and who can be permanent allies," he says. The growing convergence between the agendas of business and the radical right has boosted the chances for the tax-cut plan, he says. "They have been wise in understanding that if this tax cut passes, Bush will be a stronger President, and there will be more tax cuts every year."
Alan Kranowitz, speaking for the Tax Relief Coalition, says, "A lot of us agree that the President has got to have a good win on this tax package that will enable him to go forward and do other things." Among those "other things," of course, are a capital gains tax cut for business and an endless amalgam of special-interest tax breaks and loopholes.
Norquist predicts that in the end Bush will win a tax cut that comes pretty close to his original plan of at least $1.6 trillion. If support wavers, he says, a compromise of sorts might be struck, in which the most controversial part of the package--the rate reduction from 39.6 percent to 33 percent for the highest earners--would be scaled back or eliminated, to be replaced by a cut in the capital gains tax. (Repeal of the estate tax is almost certain not to pass this year.) Then, he says, next year Bush will come back for more. Many of the tax breaks for special interests, including the timber industry, the liquor interests and software companies like Microsoft, he suggests, could be assembled together in a package labeled "international competitiveness." Says Norquist matter-of-factly, "We'll take that pig and put lipstick on it."
To guarantee that business marches in lockstep with Bush and the Congressional GOP not just on taxes but also on other issues important to the Administration, Norquist is touting what he calls his "K Street Project," aimed at ferreting out Democrats who work as lobbyists and replacing them with litmus-test Republicans. "Democrats in Congress retire to universities," he says. "K Street is where Republicans go to retire." Norquist plans to wave around town his list of untrustworthy Democratic lobbyists in the hope that corporate CEOs will feel compelled to revamp their K Street offices rather than risk the GOP's ire.
Easy to forget in the bustle of day-to-day battles is the fact that Norquist prides himself on thinking big. "That," he says, "is one of the reasons Newt and I got along so well." During one conversation, in a crowded hallway at February's Conservative Political Action Conference, Norquist reaches into his jacket pocket and extracts a sketched-out timeline starting in 1980 and going to 2040. On it, neatly arrayed in rows, are a dozen or fifteen projects of Norquist's "center-right coalition," some nearly completed, others not even to begin for a decade or more. Some, like privatization of Social Security, will take twenty years, he believes. Others, such as the elimination of racial preferences, abolition of affirmative action and even the elimination of racial and ethnic categories in future censuses--a package he lumps together as "the creation of a color-blind society"--may take longer than that. And some projects seem almost quaint, such as his quirky effort to name things, almost anything, after Ronald Reagan.
Still others can be won piecemeal, and right away. Asked to name one that might emerge as his next battleground, he pauses. Well, he says, there's the matter of all those state and local pension plans. State by state, he's planning to launch a campaign to dismantle and privatize state pension plans and their trillions of dollars of public funds held as investments for retirees. "Just 115 people control $1 trillion in these funds," he says. "We want to take that power and destroy it."