Virtually every Republican in Congress has taken the pledge, pushed by Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, never to vote for a tax increase—a pledge both parties see as a serious impediment to a tax compromise. But if tax rates snap back to the levels of the Clinton presidency on Jan. 1, any legislation to reinstate some of those tax cuts—but not all of them—would be considered a tax cut.That's, of course, if there are still responsible Republicans. And whether they have more fealty to Grover Norquist, to the very wealthy, or to the country. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's response gives us a clue: "Democrats in Congress are now saying that they would rather see taxes go up on every American at the end of the year than let about a million businesses keep what they earn now. [...] This isn’t an economic agenda. It’s an ideological crusade."
“Many Republicans are starting to realize something important: On Jan. 1, if we haven’t gotten to a deal, Grover Norquist and his pledge are no longer relevant to this conversation,” Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, said this week in a speech at the Brookings Institution. “We will have a new fiscal and political reality.”
If it's an "ideological crusade," it's one that the majority of the public supports, according to the polling. Americans think that raising taxes on income over $250,000 will help both make the economy stronger, and make the tax system more fair.
Besides being popular with the public, holding the line on this would also take a hostage away from Republicans, and potentially the impetus to try to strike some grand bargain with them before the end of year. It's the current best chance for protecting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which just keep getting thrust on to the chopping block as sacrifices to get the Republicans on board with tax hikes.
Democrats have leverage on this one, and that leverage includes public opinion. But as Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) says, "If Democrats want to use that leverage, we can't blink." It should be relatively easy not to blink on this one—it's as simple as not doing anything, which Congress is really adept at.