Transcript: Grover Norquist (estate tax), Jun 08 2006

Estate tax, inheritance tax or death tax?

Thom Hartmann interview with Grover Norquist on KPOJ on 08 June 2006

[Thom Hartmann] Grover Norquist is with us. Grover Norquist the guy who's trying to trademark "K Street project". Is that true, Grover?

[Grover Norquist] Yeah, we put in to, well, here's what happened. We set up the K street project in '89 and some people said, "Oh, you must be doing what the Democrats used to do under, when they were in charge, and that was threatening people and requiring them to hire their relatives and their friends and to get the business community to give them money, and you're the flip side of Tony Coelho-ism" and we said, "No, no, no, no, no". Go to our web site. Our argument is, "Do not hire for access. Do not contribute for access. Businesses should hire people who understand free trade and free markets in opposition to trial lawyers, not hire people who are friends of guys on Capitol Hill. Don't hire for access. And so, in order to take back our wonderful project which was doing well, you know, from '89 on and then it got famous when the Democrats started saying, "Hey, you're doing what we used to do, that's corrupt!" We're saying, "No, no, we're the antidote to your corruption. We're not going to allow this."

[Thom Hartmann] Man, you are so slick, I am in awe. Grover Norquist.

[Grover Norquist] Thank you. I thought we were going to talk about the death tax.

[Thom Hartmann] Exactly. The main reason that you wanted to come on here is that you wanted to say that the Paris Hilton tax cut should definitely go through and I'm just wondering why? I understand that there are 18 families that have been bankrolling your efforts and others to the tune of millions of dollars. These families will receive billions, tens of billions of dollars if the inheritance tax is shot down, is done away with. And is it that they're paying you for this? Or is it that you hope to some day be in that category, or perhaps are already? Or is this just consistent with your idea that government should be starved to death and here's another way to do it?

[Grover Norquist] Well, 2 things. About 70% of the American people think we should get rid of the death tax.

[Thom Hartmann] But, about 80% of American people support our having an estate tax.

[Grover Norquist] I've not seen that number, actually. When you say estate tax, you actually still get 70% that are willing to kill it. That number's been fairly consistent, even though 2 to 5%, unless inflation kicks in, 2 to 5% of people may end up paying the death tax.

[Thom Hartmann] Come on, you're being disingenuous.

[Grover Norquist] Why?

[Thom Hartmann] You've seen the Pew poll. You saw the USA Today poll 2 years ago. If you ask people if they support an estate tax, about 70 to 80% people say, "Yes I support an estate tax". If you ask people if they support a death tax, only about 20% of people support it. You know that.

[Grover Norquist] Well actually, the polling that we've seen has been fairly consistent, that people are willing to get rid of it. And that, of course, is why we have a majority in the House.

[Thom Hartmann] Of the death tax. But I wonder how many people would support the Paris Hilton tax cut?

[Grover Norquist] I suppose Paris Hilton would, but the concern is not for Paris Hilton. The concern is, that if you'd pay taxes on income all your life, you shouldn't be taxed once again when you're stupid enough to die.

[Thom Hartmann] But you're not around when you die. It's not, if my father dies, he's not the one being taxed; I'm being taxed on the transfer of money to me. And first of all, he's not wealthy enough that there will be any estate that is taxable. I mean, this is someting that only a very, very tiny fraction of Americans, in fact when you guys were saying...

[Grover Norquist] If the tax does not, if we don't change the law, in 2011, anything over a million dollars gets taxed at about 50%.

[Thom Hartmann] No, I agree with you that the cap should be raised. I'm right there with you on that. I think that I'm more radical than the Democrats on this. They're saying, 'Let's raise it to 2 million', I think it should be raised to 5 or 10 million. But that still is, doesn't, I mean that is still irrelevant to the 18 families who have put millions of millions of dollars into getting shills and front people out here to call this the death tax and promote this because they're going to save literally over 70 billion dollars.

[Grover Norquist] Well, two things. When the government ceases, fails to take your money, it didn't give you the money, it just failed to take it. When you walk down the street and you don't get mugged, the muggers who are lazy did not give you what your wallet has.

[Thom Hartmann] So you think the government is a mugger?

[Grover Norquist] When it takes...

[Thom Hartmann] Do you drive on public streets, Grover Norquist?

[Grover Norquist] I drive on public streets.

[Thom Hartmann] So you're using government services. You stop for red lights, you think that's a good thing? You want the police to protect you from being mugged?

[Grover Norquist] OK , the argument that because some government is helpful, you are then required to pay all of the estate that the politicians want is the argument that aristocrats used to use, and that large government use the same, 'Hey, we give you some good things, and now we'll tell you how to run the rest of your life'.

[Thom Hartmann] Well, speaking of aristocrats, to bring this back to what you wanted to talk about, which is the estate tax, or what you call the death tax, or what I call the Paris Hilton tax cut, to bring it back to that. The reason that Teddy Roosevelt, the Republican president Teddy Roosevelt first started strongly advocating for this, and in doing so, by the way, was picking up from Thomas Jefferson, who was the first president to publicly advocate for an estate tax, was because we fought a war against a country that was built on the premise of landed gentry; the ability to unlimitedly inherit, pass along wealth, that somebody could create enormous wealth and their family could continue to accumulate that forever, to the point where you basically had England being run by about 55 families. Sort of like Mexico. You've got an oligarchy down there. 32 families basically run the country. And we said, "No, we don't want to have oligarchies. We don't have any problem with somebody accumulating enough money that forever their children never have to work. I mean there's, you know, Paris Hilton's great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren will never have to work, even if the estate tax is raised to 5 million bucks.

[Grover Norquist] You're confusing Paris Hilton having money with rich people in England having an aristocracy who are not just...

[Thom Hartmann] The purpose of the estate tax is to prevent a landed gentry.

[Grover Norquist] Look, if somebody was just rich and they lived out on their land, who'd care. It's when they control the state and the government that you have a problem. And if they've political power...

[Thom Hartmann] And that's what we're seeing. I mean, look at the swift boat veterans attacks against John Kerry were primarily funded by one of the women who was the heir of Sam Walton.

[Grover Norquist] Well, and on the other side, the 2 groups actually, the 527's on the right and the left that, you're basically masked each other, so you've got a bunch...

[Thom Hartmann] But my point is, do we want to live in a country where we've got an oligarchy manipulating our political system?

[Grover Norquist] No, no, that's why we're telling the senators you're not allowed to...

[Thom Hartmann] Then let's do away with the oligarchy.

[Grover Norquist] That's the Senate and the House. That's the state. The state is the monopoly that we're fighting here, not a bunch of silly rich, you know, Paris Hiltons. She doesn't bother anybody. She doesn't pass any laws. She doesn't steal my money. She doesn't tell me what to do. She doesn't make the toilets too small to flush.

[Thom Hartmann] No. But the Walton family heir that was funding the swiftboat campaign that flipped a presidential election certainly had something to do with the nature of life in our country.

[Grover Norquist] Well, and I guess my argument is that I just spent the weekend with the guys at, that the left matched the right dollar for dollar on that 527 front, the swift boat veterans had...

[Thom Hartmann] So we can agree that neither one should be doing it.

[Grover Norquist] No, no, I'm on the other side. I'm in favor of everybody playing. I think that freedom, good ideas drive out bad ideas, and everybody should be able to play.

[Thom Hartmann] So you think that the people with the most dollars should have the loudest speech.

[Grover Norquist] Yeah, ABC, CBS, NBC and this radio station have more speech than I do or the guy down the street, sure.

[Thom Hartmann] And that's...

[Grover Norquist] As long as there's free entry and competitiveness, that's fine. As long as there's lots of radio stations, lots of TV stations, but it is true that the guys who run ABC have more clout than any billionaire in the country. Because they control more...

[Thom Hartmann] But yes and no, 'cause the guys who run ABC have to respond to the public. They're running a for-profit business.

[Grover Norquist] These jokers give ...

[Thom Hartmann] But if Joe Coors decides to give millions of dollars and fund the Heritage Foundation and try and change the thinking of America, he doesn't answer to any particular constituency that's going to say, "No, we're not going to listen to your TV network any more because we don't like your politics".

[Grover Norquist] This is true, and this is back when the conservatives were unhappy that you had the Brookings Institute and a whole series of rather large left of center think tanks that still dwarf, by the way, the right of center think tanks. This argument that the left has, where they're trying to mimic the right: all of the institutions of the right were created, the ones in the last 30 years, you know, when I was sort of hanging around, were created where people are consciously saying "We're going to create something like what the left has in Brookings, like what the left has. I mean, the right of center giving foundations are dwarfed by Rockefeller and Ford and so on. So the idea that the left thinks they need new institutions; they had larger ones, that weren't as effective as the right of center ones.

[Thom Hartmann] It's not the point of our conversation, Grover Norquist. By the way, I should say, we're talking to Grover Norquist, he's with Americans for Tax Reform ... Now just, just, you've suggested that the main...

[Grover Norquist] Death tax.

[Thom Hartmann] Right. You've suggested that the main reason for doing away with what you call the death tax or what I would say is, you know, putting into place the Paris Hilton tax cut, is that you want to reduce the size of government; you want to reduce funds to government. But, but.

[Grover Norquist] I want to maximize liberty.

[Thom Hartmann] Isn't there, see, I would argue, again, you take us off on a tangent here. I would argue that without government we can't have liberty, but ...

[Grover Norquist] without some government, sure.

[Thom Hartmann] OK. So, so...

[Grover Norquist] Gets too big; it becomes unwieldy.

[Thom Hartmann] But that's not the primary argument. You and I had this argument 6 months ago and you were making a very different argument in favor of it.

[Grover Norquist] Which was that? There are lots of reasons to get rid of the death tax.

[Thom Hartmann] You were saying that, for example, you know, the family farms were being lost.

[Grover Norquist] Well, you've got the challenge, we had guys on the, we had a conference call with Senator Frist last night and the California Farm Bureau was on, and the Montana farm guys were on, saying, "Look, what happens is, our farm land, we've got farmers who aren't rich, cause they've not a lot of income, but some guy from Hollywood moves up, buys the farm next door, and all of a sudden, the highest and best use, which is what you're taxed on, of my farmland or of my ranch becomes, you know, Ted Turner's palace. And now, when I die, I'm "wealthy" and I've got to sell a lot of my land off to pay for the death tax, and so it does have that affect of making people cut down trees although I suppose that's the good bit. But they make people cut down trees and sell land to developers in order to pay the death tax. Not that I'm against cutting down trees ...

[Thom Hartmann] But when the New York Times last year was trying to write an article about this, they went to the Chamber of Commerce, they went to the American Farm Bureau and they said, "You know, we'd like some examples of farmers who have lost their farms because of the inheritance tax". And they were unable to find one. Nationwide! They were unable to find one. One of the progressive think tanks offered a 10,000 dollar award for the name of one farmer who in the last 5 years has lost his farm because of the death tax or the inheritance tax or whatever you want to call it. Not one! Can you name one?

[Grover Norquist] Well, does cutting it in half count as losing it? Call the California Farm Bureau, they were on the phone last night talking about people having to sell off. We had a guy who auctions and he says a third of the auctions that he ran in the Midwest were people paying off the estate tax.

[Thom Hartmann] Well, you know, it sounds nice in generalities. I would suggest, you know, being on your side for a second here Grover Norquist, I would suggest that you get some names. Get some names.

[Grover Norquist] Yes.

[Thom Hartmann] Tell the story of a real person who really got hurt by this and you might get a lot more traction and again as I said I agree with you, that the limit should be raised so that that kind of thing doesn't happen. But, you know, the estate of Bill Gates, or the estate of, you know, I'm not with you. We do have a caller who has a question for you. Want to take it?

[Grover Norquist] Sure.

[Thom Hartmann] OK, Mark in Woodland, you're live with Grover Norquist. Hey, Mark.

[Mark in Woodland] Hi. I just had a question, a 2 part question. First question was, you know, what do you think about the size of government now, under George W. Bush and the huge waste in spending that he's making, and what do you think about tax subsidies for big huge wealthy corporations like Monsanto and others that reap millions of billions from taxpayers.

[Grover Norquist] Well 2 things here, you're right that during the presidency of George W. Bush government spending as a percentage of GDP, as a percentage of the economy, has grown during the...

[Thom Hartmann] And in absolute dollars too.

[Grover Norquist] Yeah. Yeah. But I don't, absolute dollars I expect.

[Thom Hartmann] Sure.

[Grover Norquist] I mean it could be inflation, it could be a number of things. It's actually getting bigger as a percentage of the economy. So it's not just absolute dollars. It's not even keeping up with inflation.

[Thom Hartmann] And it grew during the Reagan administration, too, by the way.

[Grover Norquist] It did, now.

[Thom Hartmann] And shrank during the Clinton administration.

[Grover Norquist] Well, it fell during the end of the Reagan administration, it was starting coming down. But during the Clinton...

[Thom Hartmann] You mean during the recession.

[Grover Norquist] No, no, no, '87, '88 it actually began to come down a little bit with the reduction in military spending. We went up to 6% of GDP on military spending and then down to 3% preceding but then following the collapse of the Soviet Empire. And so we actually had some real savings there during the Clinton years you had some modest spending restraint and when they cut the capital gains tax, tremendous growth in capital gains revenue and stock market expanded.

[Thom Hartmann] Grover Norquist, we have less than a minute to go. I'm sorry to ask you to be a little tighter here with your...

[Grover Norquist] Oh, I'm sorry. Want to say something nice about Wyden, who voted to abolish? the death tax in 2002? And if we had elections every 2 years we'd have Mr. Wyden as well this time, but we don't.

[Thom Hartmann] OK, but no, I was giving you an opportunity to answer the question, you know, what do you think about Bush's ...

[Grover Norquist] Oh, the other one.

[Thom Hartmann] I was just asking you to do it a little more fast 'cause I didn't want to cut you off.

[Grover Norquist] The government spending too much money? Absolutely correct. We need to work on that and I'm against targeted tax cuts and targeted spending that would benefit one industry or one particular company. I mean, one of the things I do with guys on the left is work with Ralph Nader fighting subsidies for you know, stadiums, and airlines and junk like that. You can get right-left agreement on that sort of stuff.

[Thom Hartmann] Yes, on a lot of these things. Grover Norquist, Americans for Tax Reform, Grover, thanks for being with us this morning.

[Grover Norquist] Good to be with you

[Thom Hartmann] Good talking with you.

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