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Drown Government In A Bathtub? GOP Congress Seems Poised to Do It

By Joe Rothstein — October 24, 2017

No one has been more identified with the anti-tax movement than Grover Norquist. His no-tax increase pledge has been signed by thousands of federal, state and local legislators and enforced by legions of GOP activists who threaten to unseat violators.

Years ago, Norquist said his goal in opposing money for public services wasn’t to abolish government, but just to bring it down to a size where he could drown it in a bathtub. The Republican Congress appears to be on the brink of doing just that.

Within weeks, perhaps days from this writing Congress will approve a federal budget that would add $1.5 trillion to the federal debt. That means $1.5 trillion in borrowing. Borrowing not for badly needed roads and other infrastructure. Not for a system that insures that all Americans will have access to reasonably priced, high quality medical care. Not for an exciting new initiative that will transit our education system, top to bottom, into the digital age.

No. The $1.5 trillion in borrowed money will be used, almost entirely, to slash taxes for the richest individuals and most profitable companies in the U.S. Corporations that already have trillions of dollars of profits parked in other countries to avoid paying taxes in the U.S., the country they claim as home, and where they benefit from the world's most stable business climate and most reliable system of justice. For individuals, most tax savings would go to those who already have uncountable and unaccountable wealth, hundreds of billions of which is hidden in tax shelters.

That $1.5 trillion the Republicans plan to add to the nation’s credit card debt is in addition to the $20 trillion already there, most of it the legacy of Republican congresses’ failure to raise revenue to pay for the ongoing wars in the Middle East, the launch of the Medicare prescription drug program, and the Great Recession that collapsed the economy during George W. Bush’s second term as president.

More debt means higher repayment costs. With the Federal Reserve in the process of raising interest rates, it’s worth noting that a one point interest rate increase costs the federal government about $100 billion a year, money paid to debt holders. So taxpayers lose all around. Less money for essential services, more money to pay out to meet the cost of borrowing.

A well-regulated, civilized society needs, among other things, education, health services, transportation systems, law enforcement, and a system of justice. Historically, all of this has been known as public service. If our government is being drowned in a bath tub, and we haven’t the public resources to pay for these services, what’s the alternative?

The alternative is what’s waiting in the wings. The privatization of everything. Accelerating the conversion of public education to for-fee private schools, migration of the public health system to for-profit corporations, health insurance's main objective to maximize shareholder value, airlines controlling the FAA and managing all air travel, more toll roads, bridges and private utilities.

In other words, we substitute public service for business. Instead of citizens we become customers.

With less public money to pay for those to referee the capitalist system, more monopolies and more corporate abuse become inevitable. With smaller staffs and weaker authority, the process of tax collection loses its ability to challenge those with expensive tax lawyers.

When you don’t ask citizens to pay for these services through a fair and reasonable system of taxes, you consign everyone to pay more in the private market where profits get added to cost.

Republican congressional leaders make vague promises that much of their planned tax cut will be offset by closing “tax loopholes.” So far, the most prominent “loopholes” discussed are those important to working class taxpayers, a cap on how much people can put away tax free in 401K plans, and deductions for paying state and local taxes.

There are plenty of freebies out there that allow corporations and the wealthy to drive down their own tax payments and which could be meaningful for recouping money for the federal treasury. The fact that you’re hearing little about them now is a clue to how much interest this Republican Congress will have in upsetting those who have the wealth and power to make them politically uncomfortable.

The stock markets are at record highs, driven by surging corporate profits. What’s not doing well is the public sector, which has been starved for years by budget cuts. A Congress intent on protecting the public would be considering ways to improve public services, not cripple them.

But we’re in a Grover Norquist world, where Republicans have the power to drown government. They seem determined not to miss that opportunity.

(Joe Rothstein is a regular columnist for and author of the acclaimed political thriller “The Latina President and the Conspiracy to Destroy Her.” Mr. Rothstein can be contacted at

Joe Rothstein is editor of U.S. Politics Today. His career in politics spans 35 years, as a strategist and media producer in more than 200 campaigns for political office and for many political causes. He was a pioneer in professional political consulting and one of the founding members of the American Association of Political Consultants. During his career Mr. Rothstein has served as editor of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Anchorage Daily News and adjunct professor at George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management. He has a master's degree in journalism from UCLA.