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House GOP Games Out Strategy for 218 Votes

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While no agreement on a deficit reduction compromise is yet in sight, House Republican leaders are working on a strategy to muster GOP votes for what would likely be a politically painful package for the conservative-dominated majority.

It may prove impossible for Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and his leadership team to find 218 votes in the Republican Conference for legislation that would almost certainly include tax increases. But although Boehner will have to rely on Democratic votes to help pass whatever deal he cuts with President Barack Obama to avoid automatic tax increases and spending cuts beginning Jan. 1, he will at least want to have the backing of a majority of Republicans.

Recognizing that they cannot afford to wait until the last minute to determine where the votes are in their conference, Republican leaders are discussing the outlines of potential deals with the rank and file. Alternative revenue- raising proposals were presented to the conference last week, including one plan that would cap deductions at $50,000. Republican leaders also talked about how much public support various revenue proposals have received in public opinion polls.

Some conservatives remain reluctant to fall in line. GOP Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, who says he opposes any tax increase, characterized one leadership presentation as, “OK, let’s pick which tax increases we’re going to cave on, when 238 of us said we would never do such a thing.”

Huelskamp was one of three conservative House Republicans who lost choice committee assignments this week as a result of action by the leadership-controlled Republican Steering Committee.

GOP leaders circulated talking points last week to buttress the Republican position that raising revenue through limiting tax breaks is preferable to raising tax rates. The document cited a Winston Group survey conducted earlier this month. “Sixty-five percent of those surveyed preferred a deal that wipes out ‘special interest tax loopholes and deductions commonly used by the wealthy’ over an approach that raises tax rates on ‘Americans earning more than $250,000’ on Jan. 1,” the GOP document said.

Republican lawmakers need little persuasion to support additional spending cuts. But Rep. Steve King of Iowa said an emphasis on spending cuts could help Republicans swallow tax hikes. “I think that’s something else that Republicans should be discussing,” he said. “This is what we get in exchange for revenue enhancements.”

Aides to Boehner and Obama continue to talk almost every day, according to people with knowledge of the negotiations.

Some House Republicans — as well as some of their Senate colleagues — have complained about the secrecy surrounding the high-level fiscal negotiations. “I’m bemused. This isn’t how you bring together a conference that is going into the 113th with fewer members in its majority,” said Rep. David Schweikert of Arizona, a restive conservative who was stripped of his seat on the House Budget Committee earlier this week. “For those of us on the conservative side, we care a lot about the details.”

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