Grover Norquist, the President of Americans for Tax Reform, wields a great deal of power in the debt ceiling debates. Despite not being a congressman, Norquist and his conservative tax pledge have had a huge influence on Republican actions in the fight.
The most important person in the debt ceiling fight isn't a president or even a member of Congress.
His name is Grover Norquist and he runs a group called Americans for Tax Reform. And for years, Norquist has been extracting a pledge from members of Congress that they will not vote for any tax or revenue increases. Ever.
Two hundred forty current House members -- the vast majority of them Republicans -- have signed Norquist's pledge. And their signatures are making it very difficult for Congress to cut a deal with the White House over the debt ceiling since Democrats insist spending cuts be paired with revenue increases.
Who is Norquist? And how did he get into driver's seat on the debt debate? Norquist was politically active at a young age, volunteering for Richard Nixon when he was 12. He was handpicked by the Reagan Administration to run Americans for Tax Reform to help pass tax reform in the 1980s.
Since then, signing Norquist's no new taxes pledge has become a rite of passage for Republican candidates hoping to prove their conservative credentials to voters.
The debt ceiling debate poses one of the stiffest challenges to the power of that pledge. As President Obama points out, even Republican voters have favored some tax increases in this case. Norquist signaled a possible solution to the standoff when he told The Washington Post on Thursday that he wouldn't call letting the 2001 Bush tax cuts expire a tax increase.
So far, Norquist's coalition has held. But with the Aug. 2 deadline for a default now only 11 days away, pressure will continue to ramp up on House Republicans to cut a deal that includes some concession on taxes.
If he is able to hold the line on taxes, Norquist's power will be not only affirmed but increased. If he doesn't, his power could be exposed as more mythical than real.