Rep. Wolf's Problem Is With The Modern Republican Party, Not Just Norquist

October 06, 2011 11:16 am ET — Jamison Foser

Earlier this week, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) lashed out at conservative anti-government activist Grover Norquist, whose "demand for ideological purity is paralyzing Congress to the point that even a discussion of tax reform is viewed as breaking a no-tax pledge." Unsurprisingly, Norquist didn't take long to respond, calling Wolf's comments a "hissy fit" and a "compilation of whack-job criticisms." But look past the bluster, and Norquist has a point — a very good point:

He added that he thought the Virginia lawmaker, one of the relatively few GOP members of Congress to have not signed the tax pledge, was lashing out at him because he did not want to call out his Republican colleagues.

"He is the only Republican arguing that tax increases are a good idea," Norquist told The Hill. "What he has is a problem with the American people and the modern Reagan Republican Party." [...]

"The guy that stopped tax increases is named Boehner, not Norquist," the activist said, referring to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). "But if he wants to chew on my ankles, I can take it."

Norquist is right. The problem — if you think that a refusal to consider any revenue increase is a problem — isn't Grover Norquist. It's Speaker Boehner and his fellow congressional Republicans. It's the modern Republican Party, which has turned its back on basic economics, choosing rigid ideological purity over reasoned analysis. In blasting Norquist rather than calling out his fellow members of Congress, Wolf is taking the easy way out. It may make him feel better to attack Norquist, but if he really wanted to take a stand, he'd take on his leadership and colleagues.

To take just one example: Rather than blasting Norquist for opposing the elimination of special interest tax breaks, he'd criticize Republican legislators who want to preserve billions of dollars in tax breaks for huge oil companies. Instead, Wolf votes with them. Frank Wolf has a safe seat — he won re-election with 67 percent of the vote in 2010, and hasn't had a close race in decades — so he can lash out at Norquist with relative impunity. That isn't courageous or principled; it's just grandstanding. If Wolf really wants to do something important, he'll broaden his critique to include the modern GOP, not just an activist with fewer than two dozen staffers.

Norquist is wrong about one thing, though: Reagan understood that billionaires shouldn't pay lower tax rates than bus drivers. The modern Republican Party defends a system in which that happens — and wants to make it even more favorable to billionaires.