WASHINGTON -- With Republicans showing signs of bending on taxes for the richest Americans as the nation nears the so-called fiscal cliff, Democrats mounted an effort Wednesday to put a little more public pressure on the GOP and its anti-tax pledge.
The cliff is the combination of expiring Bush-era tax cuts and mandated budget cuts that start in January. President Barack Obama and Democrats propose extending all the tax cuts for income under $250,000, while letting rates revert to the Clinton-era 39.6 percent for the top 2 percent of earners.
Most Republicans have adamantly opposed any such tax hike, adhering to a "no new taxes" pledge they signed with anti-tax champion Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform.
Cracks have been appearing in the GOP's commitment to Norquist lately; Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) suggested taxes ought to be part of the discussion, and that Norquist and his pledge aren't so important.
And now Democrats are mounting an online petition that aims to mobilize the public against Norquist.
Norquist’s iron grip on Republicans in Congress is so strong that they’re afraid to raise taxes on billionaires even one red cent," says an email set to go out Wednesday from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
"But now some Republicans claim they're coming to their senses about Grover and his anti-tax pledge," the email says, referring to Chambliss and Graham, as well as Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, who Tuesday advised his party to take the Obama offer to shield 98 percent of the country from a tax increase.
The DCCC is aiming to reach 250,000 people. At the same time, the White House is pushing a Twitter campaign with the hashtag #My2K, asking people what it would mean if their taxes went up $2,200, which is the average a family of four currently saves under the Bush cuts.
For his part, Norquist is downplaying the apparent softening of support for his pledge, telling The Huffington Post that such words come from same cast of characters every so often, and amount to little.
"There's going to be a lot of pressure from the spending interests and from some of the military spending guys," Norquist said. "Then there are always the people who run to the cameras."
"We went through this for a year with the debt ceiling increase. Then it was eventually all spending cuts and no tax increases."
One of the proposals floated as a compromise involves ending some tax deductions for the wealthy, which would leave their 35 percent marginal tax rate unchanged, but effectively raise taxes anyway.
Norquist said that would violate his pledge, and added that Republicans who were talking about such deals -- on the grounds that they will get reforms to entitlement programs and the tax system in return -- are essentially living in a fantasy world.
"Quote unquote, the Republicans who are open to tax increases, every one of them has sugar plum dancing fairies in their head of fundamental entitlement reform, and some of them, fundamental tax reform," Norquist said, predicting that Obama would never go as far as the GOP would like in trimming programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
In a situation that Norquist compared to the standoffs before World War I, he predicted that the GOP won't budge and Obama would push the nation over the "cliff," which starts at the turn of the year.
"In World War I, everybody will tell you we didn't mean that to happen -- the guns of August -- everybody misjudged what everybody else was going to do, and how everybody would react," Norquist said, adding that the president is "way overplaying" the hand dealt to him by voters earlier this month.
"Obama has misread this election just as he misread the first one," Norquist said, adding that many supporters on the left are pushing Obama to stand firm, unlike in 2010 when he kept all the Bush cuts and 2011 when the debt ceiling deal included no taxes.
"I think there's a danger Obama pushes harder," Norquist said. "Remember the last two times we had these arguments he collapsed completely. [Now] he's back, mad."
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.