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Thursday, July 06, 2006

Grover Norquist on Government Spending, Privatization, Low Poll Numbers, and Health Care

The American Prospect recently talked to Grover Norquist. Here's what he had to say about the politics of government spending, the failure to privatize Social Security, low poll numbers, and health care legislation. Also, there's quite a bit more on politics and other issues in the article itself:

The World According to Grover, by The Editors, American Prospect: On Friday, June 23, we held our fifth Prospect breakfast, this one featuring conservative activist Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform...

Grover Norquist: Delighted, thanks for the invitation. I’m in the middle of writing a book on the structure of the modern Republican Party, the Democratic Party, the conservative movement, and the trends that I see over the next 25 years...

[T]he challenge as a political organizer and as somebody who would like to have ... more people in the room and not chase out anybody ..., is when are you talking to somebody on a vote-moving primary issue ... are you talking to them about ... something that they love to talk about? I was in Texas and a Palestinian-American was going on and on about who should run Hebron and at the end of the conversation he said, “Of course, I’m a member of the NRA and I always vote guns.” Step 1, forget what he thought about Hebron and talk to the guy about guns … he’s in the coalition. And so, the people’s vote-moving issue is not necessarily what you think is most important in the world, and if you try to project onto your own team, “Oh, I think that everybody should care about taxes,” and therefore assume that everybody else will vote on that, you probably guessed wrong ...

What is Bush going to do? Bush is going to look around the room and take care of everybody in the room. I’m not going to threaten you, I’m not going to threaten you, I’m not going to threaten you. This is what Reagan did. ...

It answers the question of, “So why is spending a problem?” Spending’s a problem because spending’s not a primary vote-moving issue for anyone in the coalition. Everybody around the room wishes you’d spend less money. Don’t raise my taxes; please spend less. Don’t take my guns; please spend less. Leave my faith alone; please spend less. If you keep everybody happy on their primary issue and disappoint on a secondary issue, everybody grumbles … no one walks out the door. So the temptation for a Republican is to let that one slide. And I don’t have the answer as to how we fix that. ...

Harold Meyerson: How do you account for the failure of the President’s proposal to privatize Social Security?

Norquist: The otherwise very intelligent people at the White House made an error. You can get polls that show 70 percent of Americans are for privatizing Social Security if you ask the question right. I believe that when there are 60 Republican senators we will move Social Security from the present Ponzi scheme to a fully funded individually held system, but not until.

If you look at the demographic numbers, if every 18-year-old in this country of any income level can look to retire with hundreds of thousands of dollars in a personalized savings account, it changes who that person is -- not just when they save money but as they’re doing it. The modern Democratic Party cannot survive if everyone in the country is going to be saving 10 percent of their income and retiring on that income, the party of trial lawyers and labor unions is finished. There will still be two parties. They could be the Weird Sex Party; they could be the Tree Hugger Party; they could be the Peace Party. There are a number of options available to the left. The party of trial lawyers and labor unions is not one in a shareholding society.

Therefore, Rule No. 1, unlike the scene in Hannibal Lector where he talks the guy in the other cell into swallowing his tongue and killing himself, the Republicans are not that good. The Democrats are not going to vote to privatize Social Security because politically they can’t survive it; therefore, you could not … the White House says, “Oh Grover, there are six or eight Democrats who are open to this.” I said, “Name two.” “Grover, six or eight.” “Name two.” “Six or eight Grover, really.” No there aren’t, there are none, OK? Because you can’t get the Democrats to vote for this, you’ve got to get 60 Republican votes to do it. And what Bush did was, he went out on that six-month tour, not understanding that Social Security was already dead. And it was sort of like Weekend at Bernie's. “Hey, Social Security’s moving, see?” “No, you’re pushing.” “No, it’s moving, it’s alive!” And it wasn’t. He didn’t kill it -- when he got 55 Senators not 60, it wasn’t going anywhere. And it was a very painful period, at which point he should have walked away from Bernie. Remember, they never even announced Bernie’s death; they left him in a taxi or something and went away. ...

So I think we’ll get it, but not until we have 60 Republican senators. Luckily, the guys who gerrymandered the Senate seats and gave us all those lovely square seats out west with three people living in the state, two of whom are Republican senators and one of whom is a Republican congressman, are going to make it easier for us to get the 60....

Mike Tomasky: I wrote recently, and some other people have, too, that you have a President who’s at 34 percent, a Congress, Republican-controlled, at 20-something percent, etc. etc. I think that many Americans have seen for the first time with the Bush era a conservative government, the conservative philosophy, failing them in a way that most Americans did not see when Ronald Reagan was President. Do you think that’s so? ...

Norquist: ...It’s a very interesting question about why the President’s numbers are so low. My best sense is that it’s the war and the unhappiness with the war. The good news for the Republican Party and the conservative movement is that invading Iraq was … what’s it called? … people say this war was an optional war, a war of choice, OK? The Republican Party did not demand the invasion of Iraq. And one of the challenges I’m trying to understand what the conservative movement will do about this … you want defense but you have these various arguments between a Pat Buchanan, who says going to Iraq will get you more enemies and more problems, and the neo-cons who say no no no, we’re solving the problems. And that’s a credential question that isn’t turning out for the neo-cons as well as they might have hoped, or as quickly, anyway, as they might have argued. If that’s your problem, when you’re past it, the coalition’s OK. The economy’s doing generally OK.

I think the Democratic Party’s best position was muffed by Murtha. The best position was to stand here and point at Bush and say, “Bush and Iraq, how do you like that?” And then shut up and say nothing. Because when they were doing that … what’s the old joke? "How’s your wife?" "Compared to what?" If you’re just saying how’s Bush, Bush and the war, no, not good, not good. Murtha here … how about we pull out tomorrow? And then all of a sudden you’ve got someone to compare Bush with.

Bush would have lost in 2004 if he had been running against nobody. And the smart move for the Democrats, for the opposition when you’re running against an incumbent, is almost always to make it a referendum on the incumbent. But there’s this real tendency among candidates to go Me Me Me, They Love Me, You Should Love Me. They can love you after you get your butt elected. It doesn’t have to be about you to win. Kerry made it too much about Kerry. Bush’s numbers on right-track/wrong-track and do-you-think-he’s-doing-a-good-job were both under 50, but he won. That shows the power of conservative ideas … no no. And so I think the Democrats … I know this is a constant conversation: “We’ve got to get a theme, we’ve got to get something.” Yeah, but if one could hold back and just say, “what about that?” Now, at some point the Republicans will say, oh, they have no answers. But if you’ve had a problem hung around your neck, “They don’t have any answers” doesn’t work as well. ...

Marie Cocco: I’d like to get back to the economy for a moment. ... I had to go back to the summer of 2002 to find polling data in which a majority said they approved of the way Bush was handling the economy. So it’s been now almost four years that he’s had disapproval of his handling of the economy. If you are correct that policies of tax cuts, privatization, health savings accounts, etc., are the policies that the public wants, why do you have to go back four years to find a moment where a majority of Americans approve...?

Norquist: Part of that may get to the “compared to what” question. And that is, in 2002, ... with the collapse of the bubble … Americans had $7 trillion less than they used to have, you can expect them to be very irritated and in trouble. ... But going into November, what actually saved it for the Republicans was the investor vote, which went heavily R. Why? One, they didn’t blame Bush for the collapse of the bubble. They were mad at having lower stock prices and 401(k)s, but they didn’t say Bush did this and that caused this. Secondly, the Democratic solution was to sic the trial lawyers on Enron and finish it off. No no no no no. We want our market caps to go back up, not low.

The 1930s rhetoric was bash business -- only a handful of bankers thought that meant them. Now if you say we’re going to smash the big corporations, 60-plus percent of voters say "That’s my retirement you’re messing with. I don’t appreciate that". And the Democrats have spent 50 years explaining that Republicans will pollute the earth and kill baby seals to get market caps higher. And in 2002, voters said, “We’re sorry about the seals and everything but we really got to get the stock market up.”

So, it’s not just a question of how things are going but what solution you’re happier with. You still can’t find polling for people who want higher taxes as the solution to whatever the problem is...

Cocco: Why does such a low percentage of the public approve of this man’s economic policy? The question is not asked in a vacuum; for four years he’s had a majority of Americans saying they don’t approve of his handling of the economy. For four years, not just in 2002 when their stock value was down.

Norquist: I don’t know, but I’m open to suggestions. There’s some possibility that people just don’t like this guy anymore. You know, people talk about Bush fatigue -- "I don’t like the way he dresses, I don’t like the way he talks" -- I’m not sure of that and I have not seen polling that would answer the question that you ask. ...

Ezra Klein: I would like to talk about health care for a second. [inaduble] Health care is the No. 1 priority among the American people [inaudible] … I’m fascinated by the health savings accounts solution that seems to say, sure, you don’t like how much you’re spending, you don’t like the risk you have, but really the problem is you’re not spending enough and you need to assume a whole lot more risk. [inaudible] How do you sell that?

Norquist: They’re just about to roll out a very significant expansion of HSAs because I’ve been in an argument with them about it; they had some pieces that were very problematic from my perspective. And so I just spend the last week going back-and-forth with the guys on the Hill and guys at the White House trying to come up with something. And I’m officially reasonably happy with where they are. ...

I think they’re going to pass [inaudible] a significant increase in HSAs, which would allow lower-income people to take tax credit against their Social Security taxes to put the one or two thousand dollars into ... your account and you spend it up to $2,000 and you’re insured after that. ...

The other question is, have you seen the numbers that Treasury Secretary Snow used to go out with; there were 300 billion jobs created in the last 20 years and 290 destroyed? ... One of the questions could be, “Are people feeling their job is at risk?” There’s so much turnover and if you take out of that the 15 million who are government workers, who tend not to change jobs, you’re really talking about a much higher rate of turnover of people in the private sector. So could that be something that makes people nervous? Now I like to think that people are comfortable with that and are happy, but not that many people are as excited about changing jobs as you might want in a dynamic economy. You know, when they argue that the unemployment rate is 5 percent and going up, then you have 10 percent of people scared. It’s not just the 5 percent, it’s everybody who thinks they might lose their jobs. And when it’s 10 percent unemployment and it’s going down, fewer than 10 percent of people are scared [inaudible] and some of the unemployed people aren’t scared anymore. So it’s largely the direction. But if you’re worried about job turnover a lot and that frightens you, then you can be uncomfortable with, “Didn’t you see, we’ve created four million net new jobs.” Yeah, but it’s too … I don’t know how to measure that.

It’s thrown out as an argument as to why some people are less excited even though the aggregate … conservatives are always very good at saying nobody votes on aggregate numbers. Nobody votes on total taxes or total spending. They vote on marginal taxes on them, on marginal spending on them. They don’t vote on aggregates. And yet when we tell everybody how great the economy is doing, we say, “On average, everybody got a 5 percent raise; on average, we’ve got X number of people working.” People are saying, that’s not necessarily me. ...

    Posted by on Thursday, July 6, 2006 at 03:51 PM in Budget Deficit, Economics, Health Care, Policy, Politics, Social Security | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (17)

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