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House GOP Balks at Senate Cliff Bill but Has Few Options, Little Time Left

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Boehner, center, and Cantor continue to meet with the Republican Conference about the Senate-passed fiscal cliff deal.

Democrats showed a unified front, portending a rerun of their unanimous opposition to plan B if Boehner brings an amended version of the Senate bill to the floor.

After a meeting of their caucus attended by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Democratic leaders demanded an “up or down” vote on the legislation, saying Boehner had promised as much in a recent White House meeting with congressional leaders.

“It was a bill that was passed in the United States Senate 89-8. Tell me when you’ve had that on a measure as controversial as this,” Pelosi said. “The issue of whether we have an up-or-down vote shouldn’t even be a question.”

There also appeared to be enough Democratic support to pass the Senate plan. Several prominent progressives, including Reps. Peter A. DeFazio of Oregon and Keith Ellison of Minnesota, criticized the deal and expressed concern over whether it harmed Democrats’ negotiating position going forward.

But there was no Democratic revolt. Numerous liberals said Biden had done an effective job selling the deal to members and secured relatively good terms under the circumstances.

Biden made similar promises to those he made to Senate Democrats late Monday, saying President Barack Obama was determined not to negotiate with Republicans over the pending debt ceiling increase.

Still, some Republicans believe that the equation has changed since the bungled plan B vote. For starters, the country has gone off the cliff and taxes have already been increased, so a vote to extend some of the tax cuts could be perceived as a cut not an increase.

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said the fact that the Senate bill extends most of the tax cuts permanently is a big sell in the conference. “Obviously some people still have concerns with the tax [portion, but] my sense is most people could accept this and recognize it as a partial win. Honestly, the permanency is a good thing,” he said.

Further complicating things is that even if the House can pass an amended bill, the Senate might not be able to take it up before the 112th Congress adjourns at 11:59 a.m. Thursday.

Since many senators already have left town, Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois said he wasn’t sure exactly how such senators could be corralled back in Washington in time.

The Republican Conference will meet again later Tuesday, and votes are expected on the floor. Leadership aides said not to expect any final decisions until after the second meeting.

“The lack of spending cuts in the Senate bill was a universal concern amongst members in today’s meeting. Conversations with members will continue throughout the afternoon on the path forward,” Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said.

Jonathan Strong, Humberto Sanchez, Niels Lesniewski and Sam Goldfarb contributed to this report.

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