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Boehner Has Tricky Needle to Thread on Debt

Bill Clark/Roll Call

That statement doesn’t appear to leave much room for compromise. But Cantor, Boehner and other leaders have studiously avoided saying whether cutting tax breaks for ethanol and other industries could be part of a package.

Some GOP aides said those sorts of proposals have been on the table. The elimination of the ethanol subsidy is particularly popular among Republicans, and several leadership aides said the GOP could agree fairly quickly to kill other similar breaks.

Even the elimination of oil and gas subsidies could make it into a final agreement, several aides said, though that could prove difficult to sell to the Conference.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) noted that any package will probably need Democratic votes and won’t be particularly popular for either side. While general tax increases can’t get the votes, there might be some flexibility on getting rid of corporate tax breaks.

“My personal opinion is there probably is some flexibility in that regard,” Cole said. But he added: “Nobody’s going to tip their hand on that this early in the process. At the end of the day, you either trust your negotiator or not. I trust John Boehner.”

Cole said tax rates simply can’t be part of the equation.

“From our standpoint, the president took taxes off the table in December. You can’t put them back on the table in June,” Cole said.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said he would work with Boehner and Cantor to get Democratic votes for a reasonable deal, but he added that his party’s votes would evaporate if Republicans insist on deep cuts without any new revenue.

“The trick would be not to make something so draconian ... to get Boehner’s votes that you lose the votes [of Democrats],” Hoyer said. “If the Speaker believes that there is a formula with $2.4 trillion in spending cuts, without revenues, he ought to put it on the table. I don’t think he can get there.”

Boehner also has to attend to members of the conservative base, many of whom were unhappy with the deal that he cut on the continuing resolution earlier this year. Conservatives complained that agreement had fewer spending cuts than advertised.

“He’s going to have to get around” that distrust, one GOP leadership aide said last week.

Cantor’s ambitions could also limit Boehner’s flexibility, lest he appear to be weak in comparison to his second-in-command. When Boehner appointed Cantor to Vice President Joseph Biden’s debt ceiling talks, many aides speculated it was because the Speaker hoped to force Cantor into owning part of the deal. But Cantor’s abrupt decision Thursday to quit negotiating put the responsibility back in Boehner’s lap.

The Majority Leader’s decision upset some Republicans initially, but he has since seen a wave of support, particularly from conservatives.

“Boehner doesn’t have any option but to come out and be there with Cantor,” a leadership aide said.

Aides speculated that Cantor’s work on the agreement could end up benefiting Boehner by helping to put together the basic foundation of an agreement that most Republicans could support.

But the terrain remains treacherous. Democrats took Cantor and Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) to task Friday for quitting the talks.

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