There are a lot of reasons House Republicans don't want to see any kind of tax increase in a deal to raise the debt limit, but one of them is that they've signed a popular pledge pushed by Americans for Tax Reform's Grover Norquist vowing to never raises taxes, ever. But the powerful Norquist gave an interview to The Washington Post Thursday in which he appeared to give the GOP an out, saying, "Not continuing a tax cut is not technically a tax increase." And what cuts' expiration happens to be on the horizon? The $4 trillion Bush tax cuts. If lawmakers let them die, Norquist says they wouldn't be considered pledge violators. Could this be an opening in debt negotiations?

Americans for Tax Reform tried to walk back the statement, saying it opposed tax hikes. But the Post released the audio clip of Norquist's interview, which confirms he was quoted correctly. In Thursday's White House press briefing, 
press secretary Jay Carney said it was "regrettable" Norquist backtracked on his comments. Carney said President Obama believes "the Bush high-income tax cuts absolutely have to expire and go back to the rates" during the 1990s, and that "that's an entirely reasonable and fair position to take."
 
The Post's Ruth Marcus writes that Norquist was not "sending some kind of premeditated dog whistle to GOP lawmakers," but merely was "honest" during intense questioning. Still, he's giving Congress "a huge amount of wiggle room."  But Talking Points Memo's David Kurtz thinks Norquist slipped up on purpose, because Norquist "is a smart guy. He doesn't misspeak." 
 
Time's Michael Scherer agrees, saying Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer's assertion that the House GOP now has a "hall pass" to let the Bush tax cuts expire "is not so much of an overstatement. Republicans can no longer hide behind the prospect of violating their pledge. Now it is a question of whether they are willing to change their position."
 
House Speaker John Boehner insisted Thursday no hall pass had been offered. "I believe that would be raising taxes," he said in a news conference. Reports conflict over whether negotiators are considering letting the Bush tax cuts go. CBS News' Stephanie Condon reports that letting them expire is now being looked at as a kind of backup:
According to the Democratic aide, the plan in the works would include some promise of tax reform in 2012 and would set a target for when that needs to be done. If the target were not met, then the Bush tax cuts would expire for those making over $250,000 per year.