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Rules Panel Prepares for Possible Meeting on Last-Ditch Cliff Measure

House Republican leaders are laying the legislative groundwork to move quickly on any bipartisan agreement that could be reached over the weekend to extend expiring tax cuts and avert automatic spending cuts.

House Rules Chairman David Dreier of California said he and other party leaders are taking steps in advance in case an agreement can be worked out to extend the expiring 2001 and 2003 tax cuts (PL 107-16, PL 108-27) and avert the automatic spending cuts under the 2011 debt deal (PL 112-25). That meeting could come as early as Sunday, depending on the progress of negotiations.

“We’re planning to possibly have a Rules Committee hearing on Sunday afternoon,” said Dreier, who is retiring. “We haven’t announced it (to members) yet. But it’s a possibility that we could meet.”

A Sunday Rules meeting would set the voting terms for a deal that could be on the floor as early as Monday. “We’ve been working, and we’re ready to go as soon as we come up with something,” Dreier said.

The moves in the House after Friday night’s announcement that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky are in talks toward what would be a last-ditch compromise on the fiscal cliff issues. Reid took procedural steps late Friday to move a measure along, getting unanimous consent to take up a bill (HR 8) the House passed along partisan lines over the summer that would become the “shell” for a new compromise.

The House would have to act quickly because a slew of tax provisions, most prominently the rate levels but also including the alternative minimum tax and other items, with the arrival of the new year at midnight Monday. House GOP leaders have told members they may be needed for votes up to the end of the 112th Congress later Jan. 3.

Dreier said he was working through a number of scenarios that would allow for the completion of legislation by Jan. 3. He stressed in an interview that any agreement would require thorough review and support from Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and his team, as well as consensus support in the House Republican Conference.

A Boehner aide said the speaker had made clear in the White House meeting Friday between President Barack Obama and congressional leaders that a legislative package that won Senate passage would get House consideration, with action to accept or amend the measure. Still in question is whether House members would have time to bring amendments to the floor, opening the door to changes that could scuttle an agreement with provisions unpalatable to Democrats.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said Boehner had been clear at the White House about the need for Senate-initiated legislation and that “he’s not going to bring up anything unless something comes over from there.” She said the session was “constructive” but stopped well short of saying whether Democrats would agree to provide support for the legislation or any rule developed to structure floor debate.

If there are snags in negotiations or other delays, Dreier said, a floor vote would be possible as late as the final hours of the current Congress. “It’s conceivable that we could meet on the morning of Jan 3. I hope not. But it’s conceivable,” he said.

The 113th Congress would start officially at noon on Jan. 3.

Dreier said he believed the key to winning support from House Republicans would be language dealing with spending cuts. “There’s got to be a focus on spending reduction. That’s the big key. There’s all this talk about taxes, concern about the sequester, unemployment benefits, all important things,” Dreier said. “But we’ve got to have some kind of commitment to spending reductions.”

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