The corollary is that progressives should be unafraid to draw their own red lines. If you doubt that this is a good idea, just look at how effective Norquist has been. Outside pressure from both sides is essential for a balanced deal.

Start by insisting that Social Security and any increase in the retirement age be kept off the table. President Obama’s bargaining hand will be strengthened further if he can tell Republicans that there just aren’t Democratic votes for steep cuts in Medicaid and Medicare. The president’s room for maneuver expands still more if liberals refuse to look at cuts in programs unless Republicans are prepared to raise tax rates on the wealthy. …

One indication that Republicans are aware they’re boxed in came from Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), one of his party’s shrewdest political minds. He suggested that Republicans should take up the president’s invitation to extend the Bush tax cuts for the 98 percent of Americans who earn less than $250,000 a year. Yes, this would amount to throwing in the towel on those upper-bracket levies. But Cole knows that it won’t help the Republican brand if voters come to see the GOP’s one and only objective as protecting wealthier Americans from tax increases.