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Cliff Walk: Now the Three-Way Dance Begins

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo
A group of conservative GOP lawmakers said Wednesday that it would oppose raising revenue in a deal to avert the fiscal cliff, despite President Barack Obama ’s pitch for $1.6 trillion in new tax revenue.

Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, one of the GOP lawmakers who has been pushing hard for a grand bargain, underscored McConnell’s point: “The president has said how much revenue he wants. Let’s hear him be as specific about how he’s going to change the entitlement programs to keep the country from going bankrupt. ... Where’s the Obama plan?”

Depending on how many votes they may represent, conservatives appear to be the largest obstacle so far to the efforts of Obama and Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio to reach a deal.

“We will fight any member in our conference that decides this is a good time to raise taxes,” Rep. Raúl R. Labrador said.

Still, the Idaho Republican said that if presented with a deficit reduction plan of $10 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases, “I would probably consider that deal.” Obama backs a proposal involving $2.50 in spending cuts for every dollar of new revenue.

That’s a big gap, yet it actually marks some movement from the conservative wing, which outright rejected even that equation during last year’s debt ceiling confrontation and pressed Republican presidential candidates during the primaries to reject that sort of trade.

Boehner has made keeping the rates from going up his bottom line, believing he can sell other revenue increases that would have been unthinkable in the GOP before the elections but now appear likely given Obama’s veto threat.

As Obama noted repeatedly Wednesday, taxes will go up on everyone unless Republicans agree to extend tax cuts for the middle class now.

Boehner also made moves to expand his reach to the entire caucus during the upcoming negotiations by naming Camp, Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton of Michigan to daily management meetings with the rest of the House GOP leadership, a Boehner spokesman said Wednesday.

As negotiations over the fiscal cliff begin in earnest on Friday at the White House, Boehner is likely to find that keeping the House GOP Conference united will only become more difficult, as many conservatives remain unbowed by the Democrats’ victory at the polls.

“I don’t think we lost by being too conservative and articulating our principles too clearly. I think it was actually the opposite,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas.

Democrats were cheered by Obama’s approach and his push for $1.6 trillion in revenue — double the level he discussed in 2011 as part of a failed deal with Boehner.

“The president has gotten off to a great start,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer said. The New York Democrat cited polls showing 60 percent of voters back eliminating the tax breaks for people making more than $250,000 a year, “so we are sticking to it,” he said.

Obama said his position on extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy is not new and was repeatedly argued on the campaign trail. “This shouldn’t surprise anybody,” he said. And he cited polls showing that an even greater majority back his position on the tax cuts than voted for him.

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