Grover Norquist must have seen the Bat-Signal showing that Republicans, perhaps in an effort to get out of the box he’s created for them, were flirting with allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire and passing a separate tax cut after the fact, as a backwards way to increase revenue. So Norquist took to the battle station with a warning.

“I think the American people would look at anything that raised taxes from where they are today to be a tax increase,” Norquist told TPM Monday. “Everybody knows this has been coming.” [...]

“The point is there are going to be votes on continuing everything versus not continuing everything,” he said. “It is going to be clear that there are competing visions: One without a tax increase and one with a tax increase. And you either voted to raise taxes, let them lapse, or not to raise taxes — or replace a tax cut that disappeared, or not replace it.”

“I think it would be very difficult for any politician to look people in the eye and say, ‘you’re one of the 31 million families not hit by the [Alternative Minimum Tax], but because it had gone away and it was going to hit 40 million and I made it only hit 30 million, that it wasn’t a tax increase,’” Norquist added. “That doesn’t pass the laugh test.”

I think this is a lot of bluster, from someone who knows he would lose lots of leverage if the tax cuts expire. Norquist previously allowed that letting the tax cuts expire wouldn’t violate his pledge, but he quickly backtracked. Now he’s only talking about the votes that happen before January 1. If nothing is done, he has pretty much no argument after the fact. If the options are tax cut versus bigger tax cut, Norquist loses that moral component to his pledge.

What remains to be seen is whether Democrats will capitalize on this. They’re certainly talking about it a lot, but that doesn’t equal action. Some Democrats are still deluded enough to believe that Republicans will vote for straight revenue increases without this gambit. I think that’s a pipe dream.

Brian Beutler spins out this theory of a long game on taxes, predicated on squeezing Republicans into a vote. He thinks there’s a concern with just letting the tax cuts expire and hoping the public figures out who’s responsible. The easy response to that is simply that this will never be an explicit strategy. Ryan Lizza’s long read on an Obama second term makes it pretty clear how Democrats will talk about this. They will go back and say that they want the tax cuts on the rich to expire, period. Republicans have never been particularly faulted by the electorate for this kind of obstinacy. And the public, who has basically no real secure views about taxes but just generally knows they should go up for the rich, won’t have to go far to find a scapegoat if that happens. Especially if, in the aftermath, one side is working to alleviate the side effects of that, and the other side is holding out for those same tax cuts for the rich.

I don’t really see the political value in getting Republicans to vote for a tax increase, if getting them to vote for a tax cut has the same functional end point. First of all, I don’t think it’ll happen. Second, if it’s truly a long time, it’s not determinative on the Bush tax cuts. You can also set up a sunset of those second-order tax cuts and replay this over and over again. There will be other opportunities to break the logjam. The revenue needs at the top take precedence in my view.

…I’m a little disturbed by the fact that Peter Orszag, who I don’t believe has no communication with the White House, spins his scenario for the “Obama tax cuts” and includes “modest entitlement changes” in the deal. Do Republicans really need a sweetener to accept tax cuts?