The Norquist Pledge, and Other Tax Debate Stuff That the Media is Over-Hyping

My most recent piece is an interview with Grover Norquist, who cheerfully takes the opportunity to decode all the things Republicans are telling the media to prove that they’re “bailing on the tax pledge.” They’re not, he says.

“I’ve talked to Lindsey Graham on the phone after some of his pronouncements, and he’s said: ‘Oh, I would need 10-1 [ratio of cuts to tax hikes], and it would have to include permanent, unalterable entitlement reform.’ I said: ‘Lindsey, if that’s what it’s going to take to get you to raise taxes, I’m not going to worry about you. You are not in danger of being offered a silver unicorn, because unicorns don’t exist.’ ”

But it’s easy for reporters to ask Republicans questions like “will you stick to the tax pledge?” and for Republicans to say some words that sound like compromise, and for the story to move across the wires.

Another thing that may not matter: The president’s coming, already-controversial stump tour for a deal that restores upper-end marginal tax rate hikes. John Dickerson explains:

There is a theory—argued most effectively by Brandice Canes-Wrone, inWho Leads Whom? —that presidents cannot lead the country so much as shape public opinion. Presidents are effective only when the public is already with them. Last summer the fight was unfocused. Now the lines are clearer. Though the fiscal cliff debate touches all areas of government, the immediate debate is essentially focused on raising or lowering taxes on the wealthy. This president has won battles with Congress when the topic is narrow, as he did over the extension of the payroll tax cut and holding down student loan interest rates