Grover Norquist Discusses the Most Effective Forms of Bipartisanship

Friday, August 14, 2020 - Grover Norquist shares his views on the most effective forms of bipartisanship. He argues that true bipartisanship is not best represented when moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats work together.

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Grover Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform, or ATR, a taxpayer advocacy group he founded in 1985 at President Reagan’s request.
Grover Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform, or ATR, a taxpayer advocacy group he founded in 1985 at President Reagan’s request.

Grover Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform, or ATR, a taxpayer advocacy group he founded in 1985 at President Reagan’s request. ATR organizes the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, which asks all candidates to commit themselves to oppose all net tax increases. Norquist also chairs the DC-based Wednesday Meeting, a weekly gathering of more than 150 elected officials, political activists, and conservative movement leaders. Today, he shares his views on the most effective forms of bipartisanship.

Grover Norquist argues that true bipartisanship is not best represented when moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats work together, since they are not that far apart ideologically, but rather when liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans work to find a solution. Some examples are criminal justice reform and civil forfeiture where liberals and conservatives can find common cause even if it is for different reasons.

Go to NoLabels.org to learn more about how we are bringing together a bipartisan group of public and private leaders working to solve America’s toughest problems.

In this Episode

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Opening Remarks

Grover Norquist:
That was probably the best introduction I can remember because you actually hit the three things I've done, that matter. There's some people, "I don't know what's going on here." Some reason, whatever. The Pledge, where we ask people to put in writing that they will not raise taxes. We've now gotten about 90% of Republicans in the House an Senate. We've had Democrats join, as well, but usually while they were planning to switch parties at some point. That simply allows people to state their position, "I'm not going to raise your taxes. I am going to reform government." If you don't take tax increases off the table, you never get to reform government, because you can always just keep doing everything you've done, pay for it and spend more on whatever the project is. Politically, I know there's no labels, in the 62 years prior to the Pledge, picking in 94 where we got all the Republicans... The Republicans had control of the House and Senate four of those 62 years. Since then, they've controlled the House and Senate two out of three years. The tax issue is an important issue in American politics.

The Center Right Coalition is an effort to do within the broad center right movement, we call it the Wednesday Meeting, so that nobody owns it. It's not the Grover Meeting, or the ATR Meeting. We started with about 20 people, we now average about 160. We're doing it on Microsoft Teams these days, but it had been in person. Now, 44 states have similar meetings. That's one where the way it works is you're allowed to talk about what you're doing, about the future, and talk for three minutes. 30 people will present in an hour and a half, for three minutes each, that includes Congressmen or Senators, or folks coming through town. If you have more to say, put it in writing, share it with everybody. That forces people to talk about what they're doing, so there's no whining at the meeting, there's no arguing at the meeting, there's no debate at the meeting. The meeting doesn't decide anything. We just want to make sure that everybody knows what everybody else is doing. In the broad center right we have the Gay Republicans and the Traditional Value Republicans, each broad center right politics, and it's been very helpful in keeping to a minimum arguments within the broader center right.

On Left Right Coalitions bipartisan-nonpartisan efforts, I have a slightly different take than some. Some argue bipartisanship is when the moderate Republican and the moderate Democrat get together and do something terribly moderate, and I would argue that some of the best successes on criminal justice reform and other issues are actually started where more Conservative Republicans and more Progressive Democrats, both saw a problem. The number of people in prison, the length of time they're in prison, the number of crimes they were in prison for, does this really have to continue. They could have different arguments as to what problem they were solving, or why it all happened, but right and left got together and said, "We both agree that there are too many people in prison for too long a period of time, and for too many crimes, things that are labeled as crimes. We need to think about how to get those numbers down." Some on the right go, "This will save money." In Texas, they've not built two major prisons, and they're shutting down prisons. And crime continues to go down in Texas, and the amount of money they're spending on prisons and the criminal justice system has also gone down.

Others look at the damage done to communities, and to different end of families, and ask, "Is this really necessary?" Or, "Should victimless crimes be crimes in the first place?" Those two structures coming together could work together on civil asset forfeiture, where the government stops, the police stop your car, you have money in your wallet, and they decide they think you must be selling drugs, so they take your wallet, your money, your car, and you don't have to get convicted of anything for them to take permanently. Washington Post had a wonderful article a couple of years ago where money is taken from people, by the police in civil asset forfeiture than burglaries in the United States. Trying to get those numbers down, and for different reasons people can focus on this. ACLU is one of the strongest opponents of civil asset forfeiture. Certainly, all the groups on the right that believe in property rights and not stealing people's cars. They go after houses, they go after hotels. Somebody sells drugs in a hotel room, they take the whole hotel from the hotel owner. You should have known. You rent the car, you do something bad with it, they take the car from Avis. Or mom, you borrow mom's car and you do something, mom's car gets taken. Or don't do anything. Again, you don't have to get convicted in many states for that to be taken away.

Big success was getting the ratio of how long you spent in prison for crack cocaine versus white powder cocaine. Which there's 100 to one ratio, it was a bill passed, I believe, in the 80s, at the bequest of the Black Caucus, but then 15 years later they decided the whole thing was a racist plot and had to be stopped. Because everyone was calling names, we couldn't get anything done. When the Black Caucus stopped calling names, and privately owned up this was their idea in the first place, nobody asked them to do it on TV, we were able to get a unanimous vote in the House. Unanimous. Meaning, anyone guy could have stood up and said, "I vote no." It took unanimous consent to get this moved the way it was moving legislatively. That person could have been on Fox as the only person in Congress who didn't like crack cocaine, who is really fighting the drug war, and would have gone back to stage one. We were able to get people to focus on the mandatory minimum question.

A lot of the mandatory minimums were reformed in the First Step Bill that President Trump signed. We worked on that with Republicans and Democrats, couldn't move the Obama administration, but eventually the Trump people signed on and didn't get in the way. They actually helped and moved things forward. Again, that doesn't solve all the problems but it's a good... One of the most important things we did was call it the First Step, because then everybody who had a thought about what two, three, and four steps should be, didn't mind that this was the first step. If this was called Criminal Justice Reform, people would go, "Wait a minute. There's more to be done." You'd have had pushback. But, we didn't on that. If you find principled activist on the right and left, who are listened to by their own party or tendency. Senator So and So supports a Conservative would feel comfortable. If Senator So and So is for it, a Progressive would be comfortable, too. Those people can go in a room and agree to something that's the overlap on a Venn Diagram, they're only voting for things they like. Sometimes politicians go, "Everybody hated the bill. It must be really good." I've never understood that. It could actually be just really bad.

The idea that you want everybody to be unhappy... "We're going to have pepperoni pizza and shards of glass." "No, I don't want any shards of glass." "Don't you like pepperoni?" "I don't want any shards of glass. I don't want anything that violates my principles. Let's find out what we can agree on and move that way." When we get people together, right and left, on principles, you may not be aware but in the 1950s and early 60s, there was a massive problem of people killing each other with switchblades in the movies. And because it was in all the movies, legislatures across the country passed laws against carrying knives and made it a felony. 10s of thousands of people in New York get picked up for this over the years, and then the cops go, "You want to plead down from the felony, the knife in your pocket?"

We've gotten the ACLU and the NRA to both come in and all the black structures, organizations, as well, come in. The Black Caucus in each legislature and say, "Let's not put people in prison for having a knife in their pocket." For starters, it's a tool for a whole bunch of people. And we just got New York to legalize knives and Texas was not the earliest adaptor. About 18 states, more recently, have gotten together and said, "Let's not be throwing people in prison, or threatening them, or getting them to plead down to something else." Again, right-left, both together. Some see it all about race, some see it's all about Second Amendment, point is, people's lives are being ruined, destroyed, damaged, and let's begin to move together.

When Ferguson happened, young black, African American was killed by a policeman, who was either, he was wrestling with or he was far away... DNA said they were wrestling, but it was a big deal and it talked to the police and the citizens of Ferguson not liking each other very much. The Obama administration went and took all of the emails that they could get, and then they came and dumped it on my lap and said, "This is yours. We don't know what to do with this." "Why is it mine?" It turns out, I run a taxpayer group, the Ferguson was raising 30% of their budget with fines and fees. The lady that's in charge of the budget was sending letters, emails, to the police, "Get your speed traps over here." "Why? Some kid got hurt? People are speeding?" "No, that's where we're making the money." And then they'd get little notices in their pay packets, "If you don't give out more tickets, if you don't give out more fines, you're not getting paid at the end of the month." The cops, every time they ran into people, they were stealing their money. You had IRS agents with pistols walking around, not saving dogs or getting cats out of trees, or helping little old ladies cross the road, but just irritating people all day.

The legislation that they passed in Missouri was to put a cap on how much any city can raise with fines and fees. That flows into projects with Hertzberg, the now Senate leader in California, but years ago when we started talking about this, he was on the other body. California and eight other states have banned the use of withholding your drivers license because you owe a parking ticket, or a speeding ticket. They take your drivers license away if you're running into people or drinking too much, and crashing up. If you're unsafe, but not as a way to force you to pay fines and fees.

When you think about this, this really is the old crazy situation that the British had of Debtors Prisons. You owe a bunch of money, we put you in prison. How do I earn the money to get out of prison?" "You owe the state of the city, the local traffic cops a bunch of money. You are incarcerated in house arrest, you can't leave your house by car. You could walk somewhere I suppose, but you can't go to get a job somewhere that you have to drive to. But, you owe us a bunch of money and every month that you don't pay it, then the fines go up higher and higher." We're beginning to roll that back. A Right-Left Coalition saying, "This is ridiculous. The right to travel, the right to get a job, the ability to get a job, is just too important to hold that hostage to somebody owing fines and fees." There's some of the examples of projects where we've had very good left-right coalitions, and I think it made some real progress on actually passing legislation. It helps when somebody with my reputation of being the hard tough guy, because I'm against tax increases.

On the mega issues, there's not a compromise. There's not tax increase that's ever a compromise. It's tax increases mean somebody just lost. A tax cut means somebody... One team is moving the ball. There's not a compromise on a mega issue, but there are thousands of other issues where there's a great deal of compromise that can be moved forward. Compromise, meaning I got something that was important to me, you got something that was important to you. Neither of us sacrificed on principle. We might each look at it and go, "This would have been better with seven other things in the bill." True. And the other guy you worked with thinks a different seven things should have been in the bill, which meant no bill. You figure out where the Venn Diagram overlaps, you work on that.

I'm just working today with Cartwright Carterson from Pennsylvania on a bill liberalizing the ability to compensate people who contribute a kidney. Now, you're not suppose to pay somebody to buy their kidney, but this law would make it clear that if you give your kidney it's okay for a foundation or a person to cover your hospital costs, your time off work, buy your insurance if you ever needed a new kidney, and when you look at the numbers, 7% of Medicare is renal failure. The amount, it's up to 80 billion dollars a year that we pay to keep people on machines, not having a kidney because we've made it difficult for people to contribute a kidney. That's a very interesting Republican-Democrat, I just got them a Republican co-sponsor, and we're looking to get some more on that. Does that work for a start?

Background on Grover Norquist

Bill:
Let me just read what I'm going to interpret as a question from Pitch Johnson, who says, or asks, "Please give us your own background. Where you went to high school, where you went to college. What's your job history, your record of public service?" You can interpret those terms anyway you want. He'd just like to know a little more about you, and I doubt he's alone.

Grover Norquist:
Okay. Born in Western Pennsylvania. Lived in Atlanta for two years as a kid. From Kindergarten on, I grew up in the suburbs of Boston, Cambridge, Lexington, Weston, Boston. And went to school in that area, as well, inside the 128 Beltway. Me and the entire Dukakis campaign, we're within the 128 Beltway. I went to public school, Weston Public High School, 12 miles directly, there's a little thing in the town that says, "12 miles to Boston." It was evidently where you had lunch if you were taking, in the 1700s, if you were taking a carriage from Boston to New York, you had lunch at the Golden Ball Tavern. I went to Harvard Undergrad, studied economics. Then came down and ran the National Taxpayers Union, which was the only national taxpayers group at the time. Then, went back and I went to Harvard Business School. Came down, worked with the Republican party, came down with Reagan. Ran something called Americans for the Reagan Agenda, which was an outside group of support for the Reagan agenda.

Went to the Chamber of Commerce, wrote speeches and did economic work. There for two years. Then, the White House asked if I would run American... They actually built American for Tax Reform. To be the outside group. Remember Obama had the Working for America? He had a C4 that he set up. Very similar to what the Reagan people did. They set up Americans for Tax Reform, gave it to me, and then I ran it to enact the Tax Reform Act of 86. To get that done, I created a Taxpayer Protection Pledge, where people in office, or candidates for office, have a written commitment that they won't raise taxes. Public, written, dated, witnessed. Not that we don't trust you or anything.

Getting that out to people, because the fear was that as much as people liked what seemed to be happening in the 86 Tax Reform Bill, rates down, broaden base, simplification, less government using the tax code to tell you what to do with your life. The fear was at the end of the day when 12 people went into a room, it would turn into a tax increase. When we had 100 Congressmen, 20 Senators, and one President say, "If what comes out of the smoke filled room at the end of the day is a tax increase, we're a no on the vote." It wasn't a tax increase. Actually, it was a 60 billion dollar tax cut, which was filled by selling farm loans to banks.

Federal Spending and Taxes

Question:
My question has to do with your crystal ball as far as taxes. The result of all of this spending that both the federal government has spent, and the situation that the states are in, and many of them were in before this, that's now just gotten significantly worse.

Grover Norquist:
A couple of things. One, that's the question or is there more?

Question (cont'd):
That's the question.

Grover Norquist:
Okay. The effort to spend and spend and then push off to the Republicans and say, "Now, it's your job to be responsible and raise taxes to pay for this spending." Was what we're trying to stop with the Pledge. When Obama came and said, "I've spent all this money. I need to borrow another two trillion dollars, I expect you to raise taxes." We had a phalanx of guys who said, "Taxes are not on the table. Let's reduce spending." You didn't have to do it all at once, but remember the demand from the Rs was, "You got to cut spending two trillion over the next decade from what you were expecting to do." Now, Clinton did this when the Republicans took the House and Senate. They dropped all of the spending he had planned by 200 billion a year, after 94. That's how you ended up with a balanced budget. The collapse of spending that hadn't happened yet, but they were planning to do. Flat line that.

And then you had the sequester, which the Obama assumed the Republicans would never tolerate for defense, and that was a huge fight to get the Rs to suck it in and not do with the defense spending what they would have otherwise done. The goal is not to allow overspending to be an argument for permanent taxes for permanent overspending, but to force states... And you can see states who had overspending problems. Arizona, Wisconsin, new Governor comes in, massive spending, overspending, and they literally, without a tax increase, took it down. Unless you take taxes off the table at the state level, you never reduce spending. At the federal level, the idea that you can trade taxes for... The tax increase and spending cut, like they promised Reagan twice, taxes went up, spending went up more than before the guild, in both cases.

Then they came to Bush 41, and offered him not $3.00 of the imaginary spending cuts, but $2.00 of imaginary spending cuts, because he was a cheaper date. Seems to me if you're going to cheat somebody, you could at least offer them 10 to one. You're not paying it anyway. They didn't, he went in for two to one, spending went up, more and faster than before the deal, and taxes went up, too. We've tried it, why don't we do a tax increase and a spending cut, hasn't happened. At the state level, you get the best approach when you just say, "Taxes are off the table. Now, how do we rethink things?" And you can drop spending. At the state level, there's only one state that has kept its spending at same percentage of people's income, meaning hasn't gone up any faster than the wages of the people, that's Florida. The last 18 years, Florida spending... They're spending the same percentage of your income that they used to. They're not spending... Florida's government is not getting richer faster than you are earning more money. That is the only state that has done that.

If all states had simply said, "We're not raising spending faster than your income." Every state in the country would be in significant surplus, including California. This is a long term project, you don't get there by cutting. You get there by reforming government. Not terribly interested in cutting government, I'm interested in reforming government so it costs less and does better. That's where you can get agreement with some on the left, such as with the reform that we're talking about, how you deal with kidney transplants. That is a tremendous reduction in spending, over time, by reforming something else, which is, how do you make it easier for someone who wants to contribute a kidney to a relative or a friend, but they want to make sure the risk is covered. They want to make sure their costs are covered, without going to the other extreme of buying kidneys from people in New Guinea or wherever they think they're going to sell them from.

Cutting Federal Spending/Criminal Justice Reform and Organ Donation Changes

Question:
Good afternoon, Grover. Thank you very much for appearing and for sharing your wisdom. I have two questions, they are unrelated. I hope you'll be able to answer both. None of them require an especially long answer. First, as to the issue of the core mission of cutting taxes, and you spoke about the dichotomy between state government, basically require balanced budgets, and the federal government, which can print money and borrow money. Focusing at the federal level, your real mission seems to be to cut spending, which I couldn't endorse more. Cutting taxes doesn't really effect spending, because of the possibility of borrowing at infinite item. Is your mission really to cut spending, and hopefully by cutting taxes you'll accomplish the ultimate mission? That's my first question. Second is, as to two issues that are near and dear to my heart, which is organ donors, the ability to sell not only kidneys, but all body parts, which are criminalized as of 1978. As to that issue and criminal justice reform, I'm going to ask you a political question. Both of those seem to have intense bipartisan appeal, they are easy ones because nobody's ax is being gored in either one. What is the political difficulty in accomplishing so much more than has been accomplished up to now? Who are the opposition forces that have so much power?

Grover Norquist:
Sure. Let me start with the first one on criminal justice reform and organ donation changes. Criminal justice reform may look easy, I've been at it 20 years. If it was easy, if I was smarter, we'd have been there faster. People were terrified of ending up being seen as weak on crime. You had Conservatives who didn't want to get primaried, and Liberals who didn't want to lose in the general election, and they said Mike Dukakis. We had to focus on... We worked it through the Conservative states first. Texas was first. You showed people that you can reduce the number of people in prison, the length of time they're in prison, and crime keeps going down, not up.

Question (cont'd):
Of course. Of course.

Grover Norquist:
We didn't take the easy ones, we made them doable and in retrospect, it looks easier than the next mountain we want to climb. There's a lot left on criminal justice reform on the table. Those Sheriffs really like civil asset forfeiture. This is billions of dollars we're playing with, that they steal from people, and don't want to be told no. And they are very powerful politically. We won everything you could ask for in New Mexico, but the Governor, if you read her statement at the time, the lady Republican Governor, who came out of the prosecutors, her statement on signing the bill read like a statement for vetoing the bill. I think she changed her mind halfway through and just changed the first sentence. There was a lot of pressure there. Michigan has done very, very well.

I think there's a lot... And because there's trust that you could work with somebody... I've worked with Ralph Nader on a whole series of issues, and he calls me all the time on things that we can't work together on, but he checks. "How about this?" I said, "No, Ralph. That one we're not going to be on the same team." If there is an option, we've worked together on a series of issues that unite right and left, and makes some real progress. You can go back to people you've worked with before and say, "What about this issue? Is that something that works?" I went to the ACLU on the ninth issue, that was very, very helpful. It made it possible in New York, otherwise wouldn't have happened. I don't think we've done the low hanging fruit, there's much more to be done, and part of it is you have to reframe the question. What is it we're doing here? People are afraid that poor people would sell their kidneys. How do you take that fear out?

Who's against this stuff? Some of the police are against reforming civil asset forfeiture. Some of the prosecutors love those mandatory minimums. If I charge you with this, you're going to be in prison for 40 years. I testified against mandatory minimums on the crack cocaine. I had them all in front of me and everyone of them reads like a press conference. "I'm really, really against dirty pictures of children. 45 years. That's how much I care, and you don't care as much as I care because I said 45 and those wussies had 34. Now, it's 45." Treason, by the way, is five years. Stay away from the dirty pictures. I think we can replicate this, as long as you understand you're dating, you're not married, you don't have to agree on everything else, you're working together, and nobody is asked to sacrifice on principle. You can't come to me and say, "Grover, I got a great plan. There's a little tax increase in here, but the rest of it you'll really like." Come back to me with a plan that doesn't have a little tax increase.

You asked about core mission. The core mission is increasing liberty, to maximize the individual liberty that individuals have in their lives today, and all of their lives. That means taking less of their money way, because that's taking time away. Takes time to earn money. You take that, you've taken their time from them. You've taken their time away from family, away from everything else they want to do in life. And spending can often end up encouraging people to do things they don't want to do, and you don't want to do, but if you make it available, they pay you to do that, you have all sorts of challenges. I think reforming government to be less constrictive in people's lives, costs less and you don't have to take as much. At the federal level, we've had real success in spending restraint at times. We can do better, but you don't win on this until you fix the entitlement problem. We were this close to doing that, except some idiot in Alabama forgot to elect a Republican, to nominate the right Republican, and instead of reforming and block granting all of the welfare programs, which as supposed to happen in 18, it didn't happen. We'll be back.

We'll get, as with Clinton, as Clinton did with welfare-welfare, Aid to Family with Dependent Children, now tenant, you do that with the other means tested programs, and let 50 states figure out what works, and keep the money they save while capping the spending so that it doesn't grow faster than people's incomes, you save trillions over time. And you don't have to cut and slash, and you don't have... Nobody got thrown off welfare under Clinton's reform, but did reduce the number of people on AFDC. Reduce the cost and states handle it better.

Outlook on Federal Taxes

Question:
My question was similar to an earlier one, and I'd ask, again, I appreciate the... How do you see federal taxes given what we're going to be up against, and given deficits, and giving any quality as an issue an so forth? Thank you.

Grover Norquist:
I think federal taxes, we've seen the success of the 2017 effort. We took our corporate rate to 15, and money that was overseas came here instead of going the other way. Companies are not leaving the United States. We used to have the 35% corporate rate, highest rate in the world, higher than Communist China, higher than all of our competitors in the world. Germany, France. We took that down. Very helpful and successful in terms of getting economic growth. One of the challenges, the President doesn't quite understand that tariffs are taxes. Tariffs are taxes, and he has raised taxes with his tariffs. Tariffs are taxes paid by the American people. American taxes on Chinese goods are paid by Americans. Chinese people pay taxes on American goods if China puts a tariff on them. Tariff wars are wars of choice, and you only... It's all friendly fire. All the damage done by the tariff war is done by your team. Don't do wars of choice. Presidents figured that out about Iraq. Need to work on him on tariffs and tariff policy.

I think we can hold the line on spending as a percentage of GDP, and deal with the entitlement reforms, which brings spending down. That also includes the Pentagon. Former comptroller for the Pentagon, not my brother but his predecessor, came up with a bill that would drop 200,000 civilian employees from the Pentagon through attrition, and save 10s of billions of dollars over five year period. Significant amounts going forward, simply bringing the tooth to tail ratios that we had during the Cold War back to where they were. We don't have as many soldiers, we don't need as many bureaucrats in Washington managing those soldiers as we did. He believes you could take 200,000 down and not miss them. That's a lot of money.

Moments of Pause Regarding Tea Party

Question:
Thank you. And thank you Mr. Norquist for being here. You, as much as anybody, I think, are symbolic of an absolutist position that's been quite successful. Not just in Republican, but across the aisle tax policy and fiscal policy. Some would even credit it to formation or foundation of the Tea Party movement, which I know you've been involved in. I'm wondering if you have any regrets, or any issues relative to unintended consequences, or people taking what your focus has been and maybe misapplying it? Any regrets or moments of pause, or areas of debate about consequence?

Grover Norquist:
Lots of regrets on things not done, fights not fought. I just keep at it. I'm not going anywhere. I haven't, except for being busy, or not having as large of structure as you might like, but that's why we have a Wednesday Meeting and 44 Center Right meetings in the states, and 25 overseas. Tokyo, London, Hong Kong even, still, in terms of structure. You just have to keep replicating your projects and what you're doing. The Tea Party was this anger and fear at the massive spending and the tax increases that Obama was bringing in, and where was this going to end. They didn't end up, because they were largely all denied 501C3 or C4 status, and couldn't incorporate, none of them are still around anymore. Whereas, the tax reforms movements of the late 70s are major structures in the states where they were started. They've continued in Iowa and California, Texas, and other states.

That was a political movement strangled by its inability to legalize itself and them to stay outside the ability to get $100.00 check contribution. Then, it got hijacked by the Anti-Immigrant guys, and just beat it to death. It fell apart. If there could have been a way to have harnessed the good energy there, and keep it focused on spending, that would have been useful. It just got tugged in a 100 different ways, and anybody with a microphone said they were Tea Party, and then they would go off and do weird things. Like yell at immigrants.

Important Bipartisan Issues Right Now and Going Forward

Question:
Grover, Mary Moore here. You hit in your remarks that some of the best successes were when you get more Conservatives on the right, and maybe more moderates on the left to see a problem that needs solving, and bring them together to solve those problems. Given we're here with the Problems Solvers Caucus and No Labels, or No Labels Supports Problems Solvers Caucus, what issues do you see, what are maybe three issues or a couple of issues in the near term, and/or going into 2021, that you think are most right for addressing, that we as a nation should come together on, and find some solutions?

Grover Norquist:
I think continuing the various projects on criminal justice reform to include civil asset forfeiture on mens rea. The idea that you should know it's a crime if you're going to go to jail for it. People can end up in prison for violating some law that they were completely unaware existed, or a foreign law that they didn't know existed, or regulation. There's 600,000 of those that can put you in jail, or get you significant fines. You probably haven't read them all, I have not read most of the 600,000. And 600,000 is a guess, maybe more. I think there's a lot of room on civil asset forfeiture. I think on allowing people to continue to drive their cars, even if they owe tickets on fines and fees, getting that down to a smaller percentage of any town, city, or states revenue. And take away the incentive for policing for profit, where if a policeman fines you, he gets the money, or he takes your assets, your car, somehow his department gets to sell that car and they get the money, or they get the car.

Those challenges strike me as helpful. You're seeing it now, nobody can talk about it because everybody is busy being political, but what have we learned from the COVID crisis? The virus? Since the virus hit, there have been over 700 deregulatory moves because states and the federal government found out that the structures and all the little rules they had, got in the way of fighting a virus. The CDC had the government monopoly on coming up with a vaccine, and nobody else can do this, just us. They did it once, it didn't work. We lost six weeks because they had a monopoly. They got slapped down and then they said, "Anybody can go out and do it." and everything from universities to companies who are out there doing the testing kits... Testing kits, I'm sorry. It was the monopoly on testing. Then, they also wanted a monopoly on vaccines. That's not happening.

The guy that's managing that now is out of the Pentagon. He's taken 16 vaccines from start to marketing, so on. He knows how to speed it up. They've found, as they did with AIDS, you can do parallel tracks, you don't have to do them one and then the other, and then the third one. You can do them at the same time to speed things up dramatically. You can use something we learned from the French or the British, or the Swiss, they actually have very clean laboratories. It's okay to trust their stuff. Double check it if you want, but don't act like it didn't happen. Then, all these states have these terrible laws giving little Caligula's all this power as Governor to tell people whether they can go to church or not, go on a boat by themselves, or buy birdseed when they're already in a store. I think you'll see a tremendous culling back.

I know Ohio is putting together a list of the dumbest things that Governors imposed on states that did nothing to help health. Nothing to help health. And putting those into a bill and saying, "In Ohio, no matter who's Governor, this is a list of things you can never, ever, ever, ever do." Taking some of that excess power that Governors grabbed when they wrote those emergency bills, and culling that back. Number of states are allowing the site where you pull off on the highway, allowing the truck restaurants to show up there and provide food there. I think that's a great idea, only four states did that. California is one of them, Arizona. I think all states should consider allowing that to happen, and doing it in the future.

We're finding a lot of government getting in the way and it was always a problem to do certain things, it slows things down, but when people are dying, you notice that slowing things down is not a good idea. It gets in the papers. Right to Try, I don't know if you guys have focused on this, but this is the one that came out of Arizona, 40 plus states passed laws that said, "If you or a relative of yours is dying, and you're not going to make it for very long if you have terminal disease, we say that any drug, pharmaceutical, that's been tested that's safe, and it won't kill you faster than what you've got, but hasn't yet been tested for effectiveness, and that's two or three years away, or more, you can have that in the states. It's legal." It's like legalizing marijuana state by state. The FDA still says it's illegal, fought it the whole way. Fought it the whole way. To this day they don't like this.

But the federal government, because the states had passed it... Think about this when you're working on something, whether it's legalizing marijuana or hemp. Hemp got legalized state by state, and then federally. Mitch McConnell is their lead sponsor in the Senate. It didn't start that way. You go state by state, convince state legislatures that an idea works, it's safe and safe means nobody lost an election as a result of this. It's safe, and then you go to Congress, no state legislature scared of the FDA. Congress and Senate is terrified of the Food and Drug Administration. When they passed it, they showed up in Washington, it passed almost unanimously. Some D out of New Hampshire owned by the pharmaceutical industries, was the guy trying to stop it at the end of the day. It didn't happen.

Trump signed it and there are a whole series of liberalizations like that, all off label medicines, where the doctors know this medicine has been approved by the FDA for A, is also good for B, C, and D. They give it to their patients and they tell all the other doctors, but nobody else is allowed to say it out allowed. If you take the medicine you can't tell people. "By the way, my doctor's prescribed a very helpful for these other things." They're starting state by state to have doctors standup and say, "I want everyone to know that the off label does this, and I know it's illegal for me to tell you it's on a patient, but it's true." The other team is beginning to fall on that, we will win that fight over time. I think it will take the same effort that we did with Right to Try with Right to Know.

Elaboration on Entitlement Reform/Social Security

Question:
I was wondering if you could elaborate further on entitlement reform, and perhaps, in particular, social security. You're advocating that we not raise taxes, yet we face a 23 trillion dollar, 22 trillion dollars, hard to keep track, debt. We have a trillion dollar deficit. Entitlement spending and social security make up 80% of the federal budget. It seems fanciful to think that we're going to be able to recover our... That we're going to be able to balance the budget and eventually pay down the debt without seriously attacking those issues. In particular, you have to address welfare, but I was wondering if you could address social security and the concept, more generally.

Grover Norquist:
Sure. Separate out social security and Medicare, because people pay something in for that. As far as they concerted, they've paid for it. You get more out... If you live a long time, you get more out of it than you put in, but that's not the way people compute it. If you step back to the side when talking about reforming that, and this is with Trump when he ran said, "I'm not going to touch that for anybody who's on it or near it." I don't think you get very far if you start talking about reforming or changing those for anybody, unless they're 45 and under. The means tested programs, and there are more than 150 of them, they're not all that big, but that's a big chunk, also, of the federal budget. And you can block grant those out to the states, just as Clinton did with all the same liberalization of allowing each state to deal with, to be as helpful as they can in the way that they can. That, I think, is the easiest low fruit on that one.

We will win on social security and move it from a defined contribution plan, unfortunately a Ponzi scheme given the ratios, but a defund... Ponzi was an economic advisor to Mussolini later in life. Fun fact to know and tell when you Google the guy. He had a career after being in trouble for Ponzi schemes. Watch the states. The states are doing this now. The states are moving from defined benefit plans, meaning you retire and here's what you get, to defined contribution. Meaning, you put in 10% of your salary, the state will put in 10% of your salary. When you get to retirement, that pile of money is yours, and you can take it anywhere you want. That will get you the same cash that the defined benefit plans do, but only if you put enough money in it, and the state puts enough money in. Utah, five, six years ago now, passed a law that shifted all new hires to defined contribution plans.

They are phasing out having an unfunded liability at their state level. A lot of states have moved partially, or wholly, in that direction. Including, Rhode Island and New Jersey. This is not just something that red states do. You say the lady Governor from Rhode Island basically said, "Spending money you don't have..." She may be paraphrasing the French guy, "Spending money you don't have is not left wing, it's stupid." I think that's a Spanish Socialist. Anyway. She actually was very helpful in leading that. Beat the public sector unions and then became Governor. Won the Democratic primary, won the general. Showed that you could take on an issue that many people would think is the third wheel of politics, pensions, public sector pensions, but got elected in Rhode Island, not Texas, Rhode Island.

I think we watch the states, and see how states manage. At the end of the day, they'll be a left-right coalition, when the left realizes the biggest driver of inequality in the United States is social security. They take 15% of your salary, and don't let you save it. They promise to give some of it to you if you make it to 65, which is not very good for people who's life expectancy is not as good as other peoples. The reason why some people in the United States have less life savings, wealth, life savings, is because social security told you they were saving that money for you, and they didn't. Actually, when we first pushed this a while ago, we got the major African American statesman, did a big cover story on the best thing that could happen to the African American community is for everybody to have 15% of their salary saved for them for their retirement, instead of taken from them and not saved.

That's where the inequality on peoples assets come from. And we made real progress because government employees, now, in many states, are developing real sizable, equivalence of 401Ks. And there's a political movement that gets that, 60 million Americans have a 401K, 50 million Americans have an IRA, 80 million households have one or the other. All those other households have the pretend savings of social security, and at some point, the representatives from the various communities that are disadvantaged by social security not saving for your retirement, will see that, and that's when the deal gets made. I think it will... We'll win.

How is The Pledge consistent with compromise?

Bill Galston:
Last question. I'm going to state it on behalf of the questioner, but apologize to him, I think it's him, for not knowing exactly how to pronounce his name. It's Tavin Patchette. It reads as follows: How, if at all, is the Pledge consistent with compromise?

Grover Norquist:
Certainly. Compromise is getting to where I want to go more slowly than I want to get there. That's compromising. If I'm here in DC and I want to get to Los Angeles, and I'm in Missouri, that's compromise. It's on the way to California. If my feet are wet, and everybody around me is speaking French, that's called losing. That's called heading in the wrong direction. As a Center Right activist, I want liberty to be expanded, I want people to have more opportunities, I want them to run their own lives, I want the government to back off and give people space to be themselves. Therefore, everything that increases liberty is fine. I think that a lot of the silly laws we have, you look at them and say, "We put people in prison for having marijuana or hemp, or this that or the other thing?" Stupid. Let's get rid of it.

You can't just get rid of it. We've got to work through the very slow and burdensome process of government to get it done, which means compromising as you go. I think a lot of people in prison shouldn't be in prison, but you have to work through that, so it takes time. I'm not interested in compromising on liberty, I'm interested in compromising on getting to liberty. I'm willing to compromise on getting towards liberty. If by compromise you mean getting things done, I would argue that we've had our greatest successes when you take the false hope of spending your way out of it by taking tax increases off the table, that's when, at the state level, even in Washington under Obama's president, under the moderate Republicans in the House and the Senate, we got very serious reform in spending as a result of the sequester. Everything I want, no. Pretty good start, yes.

I think that we can do a lot of working together, once you take off the table a tax increase, which simply means nobody has to reform anything. We'll just keep doing everything we've been doing for 150 years, some of which we now know is counter productive and stupid, and destructive. We'll just fund that, and we'll fund the guys newest idea. I want new, good ideas, to be the enemies and the predators of bad, stupid laws and programs, so that we get rid of the old ones, and do something that's less destructive and gets less in the way of liberty. And the great news is, there are a whole bunch of things where right, left can get together and agree on this stuff from procedural things to real laws to cutting laws. How long people spend in prison is a tough nut to crack, and we've had some real successes in 50 states, and in Washington DC.

Sign Off with Bill Galston

Bill Galston:
Thanks, Grover. We have a couple minutes left. I'm just going to do a quick wrap and then thank you for sharing your time with us. A number of years ago, you said something that made a huge impact on me. I'd like to read it to you. You said, "I'm not in favor of abolishing the government, I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub." That quotation, I think you were being serious, but correct me if I'm wrong, convinced me that there were some areas where the likes of me and the likes of you, were not going to be able to find common ground. Along with many Americans, I think that the right size of government is substantially larger than anything you could drown in a bathtub. I think what you've done over the past hour, is to show that it is possible to define, draw a line, between areas that are subject to compromise, and those, in your view, that aren't.


The question before us as a country, because I think most people would draw the same line someplace, maybe not where you drew it, but someplace, the question before the country is whether there is enough space where compromise, as you define it, is feasible to really solve the major questions before the country, and to move us in the direction of what most Americans believe is the right direction. I think the next few years are going to be a great experiment in testing the proposition that there is enough common ground to do the work that needs to be done for the country. I'm sure, despite our differences, you and I share the hope that there will be. There is. And that the job of the elected officials we support, and our own job, and the job of the organizations we belong to, is to tirelessly search for that common ground as best as we can. In that spirit, I think you've said some very important things today, especially about criminal justice reform, that we listened to with great intention. And we hope this isn't the last time that you'll share a little bit of your time with us. Once again, thanks. We are adjourned.

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