November 05, 2012

Horse 1395 - The Gridlock Man

More than anyone else, the person singularly most responsible for the result of the presidential election on November 6th is a fellow that most people in the United States haven't heard of; that person is Grover Norquist.
Grover Norquist is not a member of Congress, he is not a publicly elected member of any level of government and nor is he a politician. Norquist is a lobbyist; I think arguably the single most obstructive lobbyist in US political history.

Apart from being a board member of the NRA which is responsible for some of the most paranoid, short-sighted policy which exists, Norquist is also a founder and president of a strange organisation called "Americans for Tax Reform".
Amercans for Tax Reform as a group believes in limited government and as far as possible, refusing to make any compromise whatsoever on any policy which would increase income taxes. He was largely responsible for getting 95% of all Republican Congressmen to sign the "Taxpayer Protection Pledge" which in its own way has not insignificantly been responsible for the complete log jam in passing legislation through the Congress.

The pledge states simply that
ONE - oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rate for individuals and/or businesses
TWO - oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.
You can read specifically about the pledge here:
Or more generally about Americans for Tax Reform here: 

If you look at most legislatures, they function with at least some degree of compromise and negotiation. The really hard fact is that no sensible fiscal policy in the United States can ignore the absolutely massive national debt and solving that issue must involve both increases on taxation revenues and cutting government spending. Even if the level of government spending was slashed to zero (I'm seriously talking about cutting 100% of government spending) and the level of taxation was maintained, it would still take until 2019 to pay off the national debt. In the interim you'd have no defence of the nation and cripple the infrastructure of the country; however it's very difficult to argue that that is not the current situation.
The current Congress in terms of numbers of laws passed, that is the number of bills that have actually escaped the two houses and made it to the President's desk for signature is less than half of those passed by the Newt Gingrich led vendetta against Bill Clinton's presidency. Harry S Truman dubbed the Congress that he faced the “do-nothing Congress” but even they managed to achieve roughly sixfold the amount of congressional productivity that the current barnacles have managed.
Somehow (and I'm still yet to understand just how this is allowed to continue), there has been a sort of mystical narrative which suggests that Obama has failed in his goal of change but completely ignores entirely the obstructive role which the Congress has played.

Unlike a Westminster parliament where the executive is formed out of sitting members of the government and the government itself is formed by a majority of sitting members in the parliament, the US system has a cabinet which is unelected but selected by the President and sits distinct and separate from the parliament (Congress). This means to suggest that unlike a Westminster parliament, government is not only not formed on the floor of the lower house but in the case of the 112th Congress, a  majority of sitting members are of a different political stripe than both the President and Cabinet.
Basically when you have a Congress which at the moment is largely Republican and of which most members have signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, you're going to end up with a Congress which is openly hostile to any reforms which raise taxes and because they happen to be a different political stripe than both the President and Cabinet, are also naturally openly hostile to them.
Since politics itself is increasingly becoming concerned with the exercise of naked power rather than the actual concern for good governance of the nation, most of the Congress current aim is to openly be as hostile as possible to any legislation that the President and Cabinet might put forward.

"You know that if the president were to be reelected he would not be able to work with Congress, you know there would be more gridlock… the president just can't work with Congress, he's proven that time and time again," 
- Mitt Romney, via Reuters, 3rd Nov 2012

Romney's statement isn't so much a statement that he intends to work with Congress better but rather a statement of fact. If Romney is elected as President because he would be a Republican President who would have to work with a  largely Republican Congress, he wouldn't need to negotiate with them to pass legislation. Meanwhile if reelected, Obama finds himself with the half of the same Congress until 2015. Assuming that most of the Congress is likely to be reelected then it would retain its hostilities and its commitment to the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, then any attempts to raise taxes will continue to be met with abject hosility.

If the ATR's own website is anything to go by:
Grover G . Norquist, a native of , has been one of most effective issues management strategists in Washington for three decades.

Mr Norquist has probably been more responsible than anyone else for the actions of the hostile Congress for the past two years especially. As one of Mitt Romney's friends and both from Massachusetts, he's also going to be largely responsible for the character of the Congress for the next two years as well. Whether Romney or Obama is elected will determine whether or not the 113th Congress will be friendly or hostile. Whatever the result, you can bet that Grover Norquist will be somewhere close to the centre of the swirling maelstrom and either lobbying to obstruct and cause even more gridlock should Obama be returned or lobbying to shove as much legislation through as is possible if Romney is elected.

In reading through the ATR's website I found the delightfully Orwellian doublespeak named organisation called the Alliance for Worker Freedom which in its words is:

"AWF is a special project of Americans for Tax Reform dedicated to combating anti-worker
legislation and promoting free and open markets."
To achieve combating anti-worker legislation the "AWF continues to push for the repeal of all state collective bargaining laws" and the "AWF opposes minimum wage laws because they infringe upon the employer’s right to set wages". 

I personally fail to see how "Worker Freedom" is promoted by the removal of worker's rights to bargain collectively and to bargain for reasonable working conditions. If you want to see what the iniquity of power of labour agreements can achieve, the story of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory makes for chilling reading.
I also find that employers have an inherent right to set wages incredibly arrogant and suggest that if that's where the United States is heading, then I seriously fear for the safety of the country and you can expect massive civil disobedience in a generation's time.

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