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Fiscal Cliff Talks Face Test as Speaker Meets Caucus

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Boehner will meet with his rank and file Tuesday to outline the fiscal cliff negotiations.

In past weeks at secretive White House meetings, Speaker John A. Boehner and President Barack Obama have faced off in fiscal cliff negotiations. But it’s a meeting Tuesday morning at the Capitol that may be Boehner’s toughest negotiating session.

The Ohio Republican is set to meet with his rank and file for the first time since news leaked that he has put tax rate increases and a one-year debt ceiling increase on the table, and one Republican aide predicted “some major pushback” on what would be huge GOP concessions.

But with time running out before the nation goes over the cliff and public opinion turning against them, some Republicans are cautioning not to read too much into any political theater.

“I think it’ll be a faux revolt,” a Republican lobbyist said. “They’ll pretend like they’re upset. But they all know he had to do it. Some of them will truly be upset. But far less than the number of votes they’ll lose.”

A rate increase and hike of the debt ceiling without big corresponding spending cuts runs counter to GOP orthodoxy. Details of the private talks between Boehner and Obama have been closely guarded, though Republican sources indicated they heard more chatter over the speaker’s offer to raise taxes on income more than $1 million and were caught off guard by reports of a one-year offer to extend the debt limit.

But it was unclear whether the White House’s latest offer on Monday evening — tax hikes on those making more than $400,000, a two-year debt limit fix and additional spending cuts —would be received as a step in the GOP’s direction, even as Boehner rejected it.

Still, news of Boehner’s offer provoked strong condemnation from conservative outside groups, offering a hint of where many in the conference are.

“Raising tax rates is anti-growth and raising the debt ceiling is pro-government growth — and this is the Republican position?” said Chris Chocola, president of the Club for Growth.

Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, a doctor and leading conservative, said on Twitter that only significant changes to Medicare “like Premium Support” would qualify as adequate compensation for raising the debt ceiling. Premium support refers to some GOP preferences that Medicare cease to be a fee-for-service program and become one in which seniors are provided a set amount of money to purchase health insurance.

But the reaction in other quarters on Capitol Hill was more subdued, in part because rank-and-file members have been kept largely in the dark by Boehner and his team.

“I don’t know if they’re floating this stuff to see reactions or if it’s legitimately where they’re at,” a second GOP aide said.

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