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Fiscal Cliff Deal Limps Across Finish Line in House

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Though House passage of a bill averted the fiscal cliff for now, Boehner, center, appears weakened by the path taken.

In the end, Boehner convened a closed-door meeting with his conference — the second such meeting of the day — and offered members a choice: keep fighting or give in. Republicans could have amended the Senate-passed bill with spending cuts that the Senate pledged not to take up — an idea most Republicans initially found attractive. But in the end, they chose the latter route.

It cannot be said that the conference did not go out swinging. The blows, however, landed more often on their own leader than on the opposing party.

McCarthy led a last-minute whip count to round up support for an amendment to the Senate bill that would have mirrored a bill the House has already passed twice to offset sequester spending cuts with domestic spending cuts elsewhere in the budget.

After trying to sell the conference on the plan during an afternoon vote series, it became clear that even the fighting option — amending the Senate bill — could not garner the requisite support among Republicans to pass.

But even leadership-friendly members found the whip effort halfhearted,with a war-weary GOP leadership more eager to exit the 112th Congress than fight on in vain. Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman C.W. Bill Young of Florida said he suspected leadership would just as soon accept the Senate plan than earnestly sell their members on the amendment.

“I think they would be happy if they do not get enough votes on the whip check,” he said. “I think they would be happy to get some closure.”

So House Republicans turned their back on Boehner once again, as they did last month when he brought forward his “plan B” gamble, which was meant to be a show of strength but ended up being his undoing in the negotiations.

The perception that they would raise taxes hung too heavy over the Congress who pledged never to do so. Even the promise to vote on spending cuts could not bring around enough members.

As if to add insult to injury, the House was scheduled to vote Wednesday, the last full day of the 112th Congress, on supplemental spending for those stricken by Superstorm Sandy. The funds had no offsets.

But in what may prove a final show of defiance, or just a nod to their weary members, leaders were telling the rank and file that votes on the spending bill are “very unlikely,” according to a GOP aide.

That fight may have to wait until Thursday, when the 113th Congress gavels in.

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