Oh, sure, President Obama and the Democrats might get some concessions on the fiscal cliff. The Bush tax cuts might just expire on incomes over $250,000.
But, well... that's about it.
Everybody knows that Grover Norquist and his organization, Americans for Tax Reform, ask lawmakers (usually Republicans, though some Democrats have signed it as well -- no current Congressmen that I know of, however) to sign a pledge that they must Never, Ever Raise Taxes. And it's been like hell to convince any of them to violate that pledge. The pledge is the main reason that real tax reform -- that is, tax reform that's designed to give the government enough revenue to perform its functions without running deficits, as opposed to "tax reform" that's basically designed to make the tax code more regressive, screw having a functioning government -- virtually impossible.
But, despite the fact that taxes might go up on the wealthy, Americans for Tax Reform has already won.
It seems to be a near-certainty that federal government spending will be cut in some manner. Discretionary, non-defense spending is almost certain to be cut, and it remains to be seen if Democrats will cave on entitlements. That actually seems more likely than Republicans caving on taxes. (Perhaps some enterprising Democrat should come up with a pledge to slap on Democratic lawmakers in which they swear never to cut Medicare or Social Security, or raise the retirement age. I mean, that's as much a recipe for functioning government as, well, Norquist's no-taxes pledge, but at least it would be fun to see Democrats and Republicans in Congress have competing blood oaths in the fight to balance the federal budget.)
Do you see where this is going?
That's where the Republicans, Norquist, and Americans for Tax Reform have already won this battle. You see, less well-known (or at least, less talked-about) than Norquist's no-tax pledge is his "starve the beast" philosophy. Norquist's entire goal all along was to cut taxes in order to decrease revenues, run deficits, and bleed the federal government dry. The no-taxes pledge was the corollary to that: by basically making it impossible to get enough votes to ever raise taxes, and by riling up the public about "their tax dollars," Norquist made it such that the only possible way to get rid of all those deficits would be to cut federal spending.
For Democrats and progressives everywhere, returning tax rates on the wealthy to their Clinton-era levels isn't a win. It's a meaningless touchdown at the end of a game that Republicans have been winning, in blowout fashion, for the last 30 years. Want proof? As we stand, tax rates on the wealthy are far lower, and the tax code already far more regressive, than they were when Ronald Reagan took office. No serious person on Capitol Hill is proposing that we raise taxes on the wealthy above their Clinton-era levels. Nor is any serious person proposing that the Bush tax cuts should expire for the middle class -- even though the middle class fared better with their Clinton-era tax rates. (Somewhat serious people, at least by the standards of the current Republican Congress, are proposing that taxes should go up on the poor, but that's mostly just because they want to make the tax code even more regressive and because they want to punish poor people for being lazy -- paying taxes, after all, is punishment according to rich people who don't believe they should have to pay for infrastructure needed to run their businesses and shit like that.)
I mean, yeah, there might be hell to pay for Republicans who break the pledge in the same way that a football coach yells at the scrubs for giving up a touchdown at the very end of a 49-7 game. All that allowing some of the Bush tax cuts to expire does in this game is deny Grover Norquist a shutout. It's not a victory.