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House GOP Frustrated on Sidelines of Cliff Negotiations

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Catholics United holds a press conference in front of the Capitol on Wednesday to rebut the GOP budget efforts in the ongoing fiscal cliff fight. The group says Republicans should side with the 98 percent of taxpayers who won’t be affected by “taxes on the rich.”

Some members, however, are looking for more. Outgoing Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan of Ohio said he and others have encouraged GOP leaders to bring to the floor a package that includes not only the sequester replacement but also another extension of the 2001 and 2003 tax rates.

“We’ve talked to some folks about putting together the package we voted on this summer. I think that makes sense,” he said. “It’s been suggested several times, so we’ll see.”

The idea was brought up most recently in a Wednesday morning conference meeting and again in an afternoon meeting of the RSC.

In the RSC meeting, Rep. John Culberson of Texas proposed bringing up the fiscal cliff plan offered by Obama with $1.6 trillion in tax increases for a House floor vote, expecting it to lose by a large margin. But Rep. Reid Ribble of Wisconsin later said he was cautious about that, thinking Democrats will vote for it.

GOP members and aides, however, said bringing messaging bills to the floor while such sensitive negotiations continue could poison the talks between the president and the speaker.

“It could be distracting,” Cole said. “We’re at the point where you either trust your negotiator or you don’t, and I think most people trust the speaker.”

Outgoing Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas said a lame-duck session is not the time to be passing bills on the floor of the House, particularly not now when the focus is on the fiscal cliff.

Another argument, propagated even by those who want to take some action, is that floor votes on fiscal cliff topics would not move the public opinion needle when the president has such a formidable bully pulpit.

Even Fleming said the legislation would have no effect in the larger narrative.

“I’d rather have something on the floor, but the problem is, we’ve done it on the floor and to keep just repeating ... that just so we can wave it in front of a camera to alter American opinion I just don’t think works,” he said.

Still, the prospects for those who want floor action do not look good. The rule that Congress passed Wednesday gives House leaders the authority to bring suspension bills to the floor anytime through Dec. 28, not just the regular Monday through Wednesday schedule. That could leave the floor full of several more low-priority bills. GOP leaders have held back on contentious bills, such as the farm bill and the Violence Against Women Act, which have split the Republican Party. A spokesman for Cantor said he will announce next week’s floor schedule during colloquy Thursday.

With talks seemingly moving in slow motion, Hill sources said a deal would need to be reached by Dec. 16 to ensure lawmakers could go home for Christmas. If lawmakers do not find a deal in principle in the coming days, there likely would not be enough time to put the agreement in legislative language, vet it and pass it in both chambers before Dec. 25.

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