1. In some ways, the most important Republican in the country right now is Grover Norquist. Over the years, many members of Congress have pledged to not raise taxes, at Norquists's urging. As lawmakers debate raising taxes as part of a year-end deal to avoid automatic spending cuts in the so-called fiscal cliff, Norquist's pledge has become a central issue.
  2. Here's a breakdown of how the pledge works and what people are saying about it.
  3. The tax pledge is only one sentence long.

  4. Texas Gov. Rick Perry signs the 'Taxpayer Protection Pledge'  in 2009. (AP Photo/Austin American-Statesman, Ralph Barrea) 
  5. Here is the version signed by many Republican lawmakers: ""I _____ pledge to the taxpayers of the state of _____ and all the people of this state, that I will oppose and vote against all efforts to increase taxes."
  6. That means forever. As a Q&A on the pledge states, "Elected officials who have taken the Pledge make a commitment to taxpayers for the duration of their tenure in the office to which they are elected."
  7. But it isn't as simple as it seems.

  8. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., listens to Goldman Sachs executives testifying in 2010. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
  9. Lawmakers and Norquist often have argued over what exactly constitutes a tax increase. Earlier this year, Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) tried to eliminate two tax breaks. Norquist argued that would be a tax increase unless they were paired with another tax cut. 
  10. Coburn: "I recently proposed amendments to end tax earmarks for movie producers and the ethanol industry. Mr. Norquist charged that those measures would be tax hikes unless paired with dollar-for-dollar rate reductions. And yet all but six of the 41 Senate Republicans who had signed his pledge voted for my amendments. Those 35 Republican pledge-violators are hardly soft on taxes. Rather, they understand that the tax code is riddled with special-interest provisions that are merely spending by another name."
  11. It helped elect George H.W. Bush — and Bill Clinton.

  12. President George H.W. Bush stands with his family on the podium at the Republican National Convention in 1992. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
  13. Americans for Tax Reform, the nonprofit advocacy group headed by Norquist, unveiled the Taxpayer Protection Pledge in 1986. But it really gained steam in the 1988 presidential election.
  14. Newsweek: "Back in 1988, Vice President George H.W. Bush was on the ropes in the presidential primaries after losing badly to Bob Dole in the Iowa caucuses. So in New Hampshire, Bush wheeled on Dole in a debate and asked him to sign a pledge not to raise taxes. Dole refused. That helped Bush turn the race around and win the presidency (where he famously reneged on his pledge, helping him to lose it in 1992)."
  15. But fewer members of Congress are bound by it today.

  16. The dome of the Capitol is framed through dense summer foliage, in Washington, Tuesday, July 29, 2008.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
  17. About a dozen successful Republican House candidates refused to sign the pledge this year, while others say they no longer will follow it.
  18. The Hill: "With Democrats picking up seven or eight seats, that means the pledge guides fewer than the 218 members needed for a majority. In the Senate, where Republicans lost two seats, just 39 members of the chamber are pledge-signers, according to the group’s records. That is a drop from 238 members of the House and 41 senators who committed to the pledge at the start of the 112th Congress."
  19. And six key Republican senators have disavowed it.

  20. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., speaks about financial reform on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, April 21, 2010. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)