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White House Lobs One Toward Boehner

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo

The White House is kicking off 2012 the same way it ended 2011 — pushing Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) to ditch the right wing of his GOP Conference and rely on Democratic votes to get bills passed.

To that effect, a senior administration official speculated today that a broad deficit reduction deal could pass the House provided that Boehner is willing to pass it with a significant number of Democratic votes. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Keeping with the theme, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney also asserted today that a segment of the House GOP appears to be dictating policy, leading to obstructionism that Carney said would hurt Republicans politically if they persist.

“There’s still another year in Congress where we can change all that,” Carney said, but he added that it will take a new approach from Republicans.

The message from the White House is similar to the tack that the administration has taken since negotiations between Boehner and President Barack Obama fell apart over the summer for a broad deficit reduction plan.

The senior administration official predicted a broad plan, including increased tax revenues, could pass both the Senate and the House as well, citing the large number of Members from both parties and chambers who have signed on to calls for larger deals to tackle the deficit. This official speculated that the snag in the House was the makeup of Republicans who would be willing to support a deal. More broadly, the official said that if Republicans were willing to govern with a coalition of 160 to 170 Republicans and 60 Democrats, a lot of problems facing the country could be resolved.

Boehner’s office, however, pushed back on such an assertion.

Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck pinned the blame on the White House for the failure of deficit reduction talks. “The reason there’s been no larger deficit reduction agreement is the president’s insistence on job-killing, trillion-dollar tax hikes and refusal to do anything but tinker around the edges of our spending problem,” he said.

The back and forth between the sides merely reasserts that the biggest hang-up is what it has been since the summer, which is over tax increases.

Without some sort of breakthrough, the issue will likely wait until after the election, when a probable lame-duck session would be faced with the expiration of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, as well as the automatic cuts that would begin to take effect because of the failure of the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction. The tax cuts expire, and the sequester is set to start Jan. 1, 2013.

In the meantime, the White House is expected to keep with the same game plan it used at the end of last year — pushing the president’s stalled jobs initiatives, blasting Congress if it fails to pass them and hoping the GOP is forced to come its way, as it did on the extension of the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits.

According to senior administration officials who spoke on the condition that they not be directly quoted, Obama will focus on getting as much of his agenda accomplished as possible before gearing up for the re-election campaign. The officials said there should be a political imperative for Congressional Republicans to work with the administration to get some things done this year — at a minimum the extension of the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits — but listed other items ripe for compromise as well, including tax cuts for small businesses, infrastructure spending and immigration reforms for highly skilled workers.

More items will be rolled out in the president’s State of the Union address later this month, and the administration will continue to roll out initiatives aimed at boosting the economy even if Congress fails to act.

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