"I would also submit that Mr. Norquist's pledge—which candidates sign to indicate their opposition to tax increases—has morphed into a powerful mechanism for Mr. Norquist to ensure that favored tax earmarks to select industries remain untouched, thus preventing comprehensive tax reform," he said.
Lessig says campaign finance reforms that limit outside spending would help to diminish Norquist—and other lobbyists'—ability to dictate public policy.
"He has exaggerated power because of the way in which money plays into politics," Lessig says.
With time running out for politicians caught between maintaining their pledge and satisfying the public's demands for a deficit deal, Boyle says it's not at all clear how it will end.
"This is certainly one of the biggest, if not the biggest, litmus tests in the Republican Party and it has been a powerful tool and I don't know how this plays out," she says. "But we're obviously seeing a lot of economic and political turmoil in the country right now and it will be interesting to see how that fairs."
A spokesman for Americans for Tax Reform did not return a request for comment.