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House GOP Games Out Strategy for 218 Votes

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Republicans in both chambers agree it is important that Boehner be able to win the support of most Republicans for any bargain he makes. If the Senate votes first on a fiscal compromise, a large bipartisan vote there could make Boehner’s task somewhat easier.

“The speaker can’t remain the speaker if he can’t continuously command a majority of the majority,” said Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a member of the House GOP whip team. “That’s just politics 101.”

Boehner has told Republicans he disagrees with Cole’s view that the GOP should accept the White House demand to extend all current tax rates except those for couples earning more than $250,000.

Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, vice chairman of the Senate Republican Conference and a former House GOP whip, said senators will be watching whether any debt deal meets the “majority of the majority” standard in the House. “It doesn’t have to maybe be a huge majority,” he said. “But unless the president wants to never get anything else done as long as he is the president and John Boehner is the speaker, they have to come up with an agreement that a majority of the speaker’s majority will vote for.”

GOP lawmakers are waiting for more details on the framework Boehner suggested in a Monday letter to Obama. They generally concede that the president has superior leverage in the current negotiations, and they worry that if a deal is not reached, the public will blame Republicans.

In a Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll released Tuesday, 53 percent of respondents said they would blame Republicans if the fiscal cliff deadline passes without action, while 27 percent said Obama would deserve more blame.

“I want an agreement that drives down the debt-to-GDP,” said Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., who reserved judgment on Boehner’s plan until he sees specifics and scoring by the Congressional Budget Office.

Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla., also withheld an endorsement of Boehner’s proposal to include $800 billion in new revenue over 10 years. “I’ve got to see all the details on that,” Lankford said. “I am supportive of the speaker and what he is trying to accomplish. That number is the same number he had last summer, so that’s not changed. That’s not something new.”

Senate Ponders Challenges

Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois said Democratic leaders in that chamber have not discussed the structure of floor votes on a possible debt deal. “The later it gets, the harder it gets,” Durbin said. “Until we have an agreement, nobody is seriously discussing the procedural challenges.”

Durbin said those challenges would include staffing during the holiday period, drafting and vetting the necessary legislation quickly, and the possibility of inclement weather that could hinder senators’ travel schedules. Durbin and other lawmakers recalled this week that the Senate passed its version of the health care law on the morning of Christmas Eve in 2009.

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., predicted that negotiations will be lengthy, but he said it remains possible to wrap things up by Dec. 21.

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