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Boehner's Tight Circle May Help Sell Deal

Speaker’s allies could help get Republican Conference on same page on potential fiscal cliff plan

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call
Boehner counts his leadership team to lend a hand with his daily discussions on the fiscal cliff negotiations. This inner circle could help the speaker when he finally presents his scattered conference with a deal.

Speaker John A. Boehner is keeping his power base close as Congress moves into the final weeks of negotiations with President Barack Obama on a deal to forestall the fiscal cliff, and the Ohio lawmaker has expanded his inner circle to include key chairmen who could help sell a tough deal.

Although he is the sole negotiator when he speaks with the president, every morning that the House is in session, Boehner holds what the GOP calls a daily management meeting with his leadership team and top committee chairmen, a group that has intimate influence over the party’s negotiating position and will be tasked with selling a deal to the broader conference.

That does not, however, translate to automatic buy-in inside the room.

Boehner’s leadership team is ever-present: Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and incoming GOP Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., would be in the morning meetings, fiscal cliff notwithstanding.

But Boehner chose to add heavyweight committee chairmen to the meetings when the fiscal cliff negotiations began in earnest, bringing in Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, and Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp and Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, both of Michigan.

The group might find itself instrumental in helping Boehner through the talks and even in burnishing a legacy, if a grand bargain emerges. After dealing with a cantankerous conference last year during highly public and embarrassing spending battles on the budget and debt limit, the speaker and president fell short of a grand bargain. If Boehner secures such a deal this time around, it will be because he has exerted more influence, most prominently over his own conference.

The participants have repeatedly followed Boehner on several tough votes, including the 2011 deficit reduction/debt ceiling deal. Ryan, however, deviated from leadership when he voted against a payroll tax cut extension that Camp negotiated.

With a restive conservative faction to tend to and potential higher political aspirations, Ryan will have to weigh, perhaps more than the others in the room, the costs and benefits of voting for a fiscal cliff compromise.

But particularly in a negotiation where the president has so far refused to budge on the issue of raising tax rates on the wealthy, it could mean a tough vote for everyone, even if reforms to entitlements materialize.

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