Norquist sees a loophole in his own pledge?

Maybe I don’t pay close enough attention to the nuances of Grover Norquist’s bizarre rhetoric, but this strikes me as new.

With a handful of exceptions, every Republican member of Congress has signed a pledge against increasing taxes. Would allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire as scheduled in 2012 violate this vow? We posed this question to Grover Norquist, its author and enforcer, and his answer was both surprising and encouraging: No.

In other words, according to Mr. Norquist’s interpretation of the Americans for Tax Reform pledge, lawmakers have the technical leeway to bring in as much as $4 trillion in new tax revenue — the cost of extending President George W. Bush’s tax cuts for another decade — without being accused of breaking their promise. “Not continuing a tax cut is not technically a tax increase,” Mr. Norquist told us. So it doesn’t violate the pledge? “We wouldn’t hold it that way,” he said.

Norquist doesn’t want Bush’s budget-busting tax cuts to expire, but that’s not the point. Republican lawmakers are terrified of violating his pledge, and here’s Norquist, on the record, saying GOP members can keep their word and allow a return to Clinton-era rates.

Steve M. notes that Norquist seemed to say the exact opposite a year ago, but why quibble? If Norquist wants to leave his allies with some wiggle room to increase revenue, I’m delighted.

It is an awfully odd ideology, though. If Congress wants to end $4 billion in tax subsidies to the already-profitable oil industry, Norquist says that’s a violation of the rules. But if Congress allows $4 trillion in tax cuts for individuals to disappear, that’s fine? Has Norquist really thought this through?

Either way, this seems like quite a loophole. The extent of Norquist’s influence over the Republican caucuses isn’t always clear, but if expiring tax cuts no longer count as tax increases, it seems like Democrats should be able to use this.

Update: Norquist and his organization are pushing back against the editorial, after no doubt getting an earful from their far-right allies this morning. It’s unclear if the Post misquoted him, whether Norquist misspoke, or whether he just accidentally said what he believes and now regrets it.

Second Update: The Post responds to Norquist’s pushback, and posts the audio of his remarks. Long story short: his denials notwithstanding, Norquist was quoted accurately the first time.