WASHINGTON -- Retiring Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio) offered scathing assessments Thursday of Congress and of the tax policy pushed on his party by anti-tax hardliner Grover Norquist.
Congress, LaTourette said, is like a drunk who needs to hit bottom in order to straighten out. While Republicans and Democrats share blame for that, he especially singled out the arguments of Norquist and his group Americans for Tax Reform, calling them "crap."
LaTourette, who had cited the polarized climate of Congress as a prime reason for not seeking reelection in a Tuesday announcement, elaborated on his thinking at a Thursday Capitol Hill news conference called to promote a plan to compromise on spending and taxing.
First, he said Congress is simply unable to function, with both sides driven by their bases and too few moderates available to put aside politics and do the nation's business.
"The current atmosphere, it's a little bit like an alcoholic in my mind," LaTourette told reporters. "I think the place has to hit bottom before they realize they've got a problem and ... get it fixed."
But he reserved his harshest words for Norquist, from whom LaTourette recalled receiving a phone call after he and Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) proposed legislation that would enact the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan. That plan aimed to cut the deficit by $4 trillion over 10 years through budget cuts and tax reforms, which would set taxes at 21 percent of the gross domestic product.
"Grover Norquist called me and said, 'You're raising taxes $2 trillion,'" LaTourette said, adding that he wondered why Norquist didn't also label the budget proposal from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) a tax hike, since it would raise taxes from 15 percent to 19 percent of GDP.
The congressman was even less impressed with Norquist's reasoning when it came to closing tax loopholes, thereby raising the effective rates of corporations, such as General Electric, to 25 percent. GE has reportedly paid no net federal income taxes in recent years.
"So, I guess I'm going to be happy, going down from 34 percent to 25 percent, but why aren't the people at GE going to be screaming?" LaTourette recalled asking Norquist. "You've just given them a 25 percent tax increase."
He said Norquist answered that Americans for Tax Reform "don't look at the individual tax rates. We look at the aggregate of tax revenue versus GDP."
"And I said, 'Crap,'" LaTourette continued. "Nobody where I grew up understands that kind of baloney. They understand that you pay what you pay, and you're either paying 25 percent or you're paying nothing."
While Republicans need to ignore the likes of Norquist, LaTourette argued, Democrats need to explain to their base that entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security must change.
He suggested that congressional leaders actually do understand the problems and predicted that immediately after the elections, they would unveil a bill that looks very much like Simpson-Bowles.
"What you'll see on Nov. 7, I believe, will be Simpson-Bowles plus," he said. "It will be ready to be dropped. If it was up to me and some others in this group that we're part of, we would have dropped it yesterday or the day before yesterday. But we have to be considerate of our colleagues who say not before Nov. 7."
"The pressure of the elections will be over then," LaTourette added. He said that although he and Cooper garnered only 38 votes for their version of Simpson-Bowles, many members pledged privately to back it later.
"I can't tell you how many members of both parties came up to not only I but Jim Cooper and said, 'We know we're going to be there in December. We just can't do it now,'" LaTourette said.
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.
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