While Super Committee Democrats are pressed to accept unpopular, and illiberal proposals like raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67 over several years, Republicans are under increasing pressure to cut Grover Norquist loose.
The well-funded anti-tax crusader has secured pledges from the vast majority of Republican members of Congress, including all six GOP members of the Super Committee, to never raise taxes on net. And that's the key reason the panel is deadlocked with just three weeks until its deadline.
Yesterday, at a public hearing, those six Republicans got an earful from one of their former colleagues -- retired Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY).
"Just a quick note about Grover Norquist," Simpson testified. "If Grover Norquist is now the most powerful man in America, he should run for president. There's no question about his power. And let me tell you, he has people in thrall. That's a terrible phrase. Lincoln used it. It means your mind has been captured. You're in bondage with a soul. "
Simpson went on: "So here he is. I asked him. He said, 'My hero is Ronald Reagan.' I said, 'Well, he raised 11 times in his eight years.' And he said, 'I know. I didn't like that at all.' I said, 'Well, he did it. Why do you suppose?' He said, 'I don't know. Very disappointing.' I said, 'He probably did it to make the country run, another sick idea.'"
To underscore the fact that GOP's intransigence on taxes is the source of the gridlock, the committee's Democratic co-chair confirmed that Democrats are willing to make the sort of deep cuts to entitlement programs Republicans are demanding -- but only if Republicans abandon the pledge.
"It's not enough for either side to simply say they want to reduce the deficit--now is the time when everyone needs to be putting some real skin in the game and offering serious compromises," Murray said at the hearing, in her most pointed public comments to date. "Democrats have made clear we are prepared to do that. We've said we are very open to painful concessions and compromises if Republicans are as well--and we have put forward serious ideas that reflect this. But these concessions would only be made--and only considered--in the context of a balanced deal that doesn't just fall on the middle class and most vulnerable Americans--but that requires big corporations and the wealthiest among us to share in the sacrifices."
Other players in the conservative movement are rallying around Norquist. The question is whether elected Republicans can cut the Gordian Knot.