House Republicans' support for Plan B on fiscal cliff uncertain

Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio. Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio. J. Scott Applewhite/AP
House Speaker John Boehner and other House Republican leaders late Tuesday night drafted and posted legislative language online regarding two alternative plans to freeze income tax rates so both can be voted on this week as potential ways to soften the so-called “fiscal cliff” at year’s end.

In reality, Republican vote counters were unsure if either approach would actually have the Republican support needed to pass the House. That includes a plan offered by Boehner, R-Ohio, himself Tuesday that would extend current lower tax rates enacted under former President George W. Bush for everyone making less than $1 million.

Boehner says passing such a measure would at least be a stopgap measure as he and President Obama continue negotiating a broader plan to deal with the fiscal crisis. He has panned the latest White House offer containing $1.3 trillion in tax increases, but just $850 billion in spending cuts, as not a balanced deficit-cutting plan.

The other measure would extend for a year the lowered tax rates for only those making annual incomes of $250,000 and below – an approach already passed by the Democratic-led Senate, but which has drawn just sparse public support among House Republicans. Boehner’s allowing a vote on that measure is described as intending to illustrate it would not pass in his GOP-controlled House.

Neither measure would address the huge across-the-board “sequester” spending cuts to military and other programs set to kick in Jan. 2.

And late Tuesday, Boehner was running into resistance from some of his own members for his own option. That uncertainty persisted even after a second closed-door meeting between Boehner and rank-and-file members, which was itself a follow-up on an earlier meeting in the day in which the speaker first unveiled his so-called “Plan B.” Having to hold two such meetings in one day to explain such a proposal is likely not a good sign for its chances.

However, some members said they would back Boehner’s plan. “I’m going to be for it, I kind of feel like I’m a lifeguard and there’s millions of Americans that are about to drown in a huge tax increase and I’m going to save as many as I can,” said Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio.

But others wondered why -- with little chance the Senate will pass the Boehner alternative and since it comes with no spending cuts attached -- House Republicans should go on record as voting to raise income taxes on any earners.

“Once you cross that line and say it's OK for some people’s taxes to go up, I think it’s a mistake for the Republican Party, so I think that’s what a lot of members are struggling with,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio.

"Unfortunately there is no spending cuts. We don't even expect this to even be passed by the Senate...I have to question, why do we want to go on record as raising taxes on anybody…,” asked Rep. John Fleming, R-La. However, Fleming noted there was a “positive response” to another idea floated by Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., during the Tuesday evening meeting. That is to have one bill with various amendments or various bills that separates out various tax brackets and allowed members to vote specifically for which ones they think can rise.

But as of Tuesday night, Republicans were finalizing the language to the two alternatives and scrambling to get them to the House Rules Committee, so they could be posted publicly by midnight. Both would be voted on as amendments to an unspecified already existing bill. But for such floor action to occur on Thursday – as Republicans say they are shooting for -- those amendments are technically supposed to be online and available for viewing for two days, and at least a part of a third day. There are emergency ways around this three-day requirement, however.

Some of this may be discussed on Wednesday during a scheduled Rules Committee meeting.
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