When members of the House Budget Committee gathered over sandwiches to meet with the leaders of President Barack Obama’s debt commission in Washington, former Senator Alan Simpson delivered a warning.

“If you are in thrall to Grover Norquist,” the Wyoming Republican who co-led the debt panel said he told the group in February, “this country hasn’t got a prayer.”

There may be enough congressional Republicans enthralled with Norquist, a small-government advocate who has spent the last quarter-century pressing lawmakers to sign a pledge never to raise taxes, to kill any comprehensive, bipartisan deal to rein in the $14.3 trillion national debt, say current and former members of Congress.

Norquist, 54, president of Americans for Tax Reform, says he has secured written pledges from 40 of the 47 Republicans in the Senate and 233 of 240 party members in the House. More than 1,300 state-level legislators, governors and even auditors have also signed, Norquist said. That includes Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Texas Governor Rick Perry and Ohio Governor John Kasich, all Republicans, he said.

The pledge is coming under fire as two groups of lawmakers try to negotiate a package of spending reductions and revenue increases to curb the budget deficit. Republicans are demanding spending cuts as a condition of raising the statutory debt ceiling the Treasury reached last week. If lawmakers don’t boost the cap by Aug. 2, the U.S. risks a default, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said.

Every Republican involved in the negotiations has signed his pledge, which includes two promises: to “oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or business” and to “oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.”

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