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House GOP Wary of Reported Details of Cliff Deal

The verdict is out on whether a Senate fiscal cliff deal, the details of which are still emerging, can pass the Republican-controlled House.

The plan, which would extend current tax rates on households with incomes less than $450,000, is receiving a tepid response from House Republicans, some of whom are already voicing their disapproval.

“I just don’t see any way I can vote for it because it doesn’t cut any spending,” said Rep. John Fleming, R-La.

Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, an influential conservative voice and departing chairman of the Republican Study Committee, is also “strongly” opposed, a senior Republican aide said.

And provisions that could delay spending cuts under the Budget Control Act’s “sequestration” provision drew fire from even a key moderate member.

“That’s ridiculous; that’s nuts,” said Rep. Steven C. LaTourette, R-Ohio, about a plan to delay the cuts for two months. “So then they can kick the can in another two months? There has to be some spending cuts.”

President Barack Obama’s vow Monday to pursue further tax increases in future deficit reduction talks with Congress hardened divisions between the two parties, Republicans said.

In a closed-door meeting with Republican members, Speaker John Boehner of Ohio suggested Obama’s remarks were further proof that Democrats are angling to force the economy over the fiscal cliff, believing it will benefit their party politically.

“Weeks ago it was reported that the White House and Senate Democrats had adopted ‘a deliberate strategy to slow walk’ our country to the edge of the fiscal cliff. Well, they’ve gotten their wish. We are now hours away from going over the cliff,” Boehner said, according to his prepared remarks.

LaTourette said Boehner also indicated that Obama’s “performance today reinforced his belief.”

“I just saw campaign mode, and a lot of spin, and, frankly, denial of most of his presidential responsibilities, so no I didn’t think it was very helpful at all,” said Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas. “It’s just odd that after months and months and months and months to have the president suddenly wake up and decide that sequestration is a priority.”

“I think the defense sequester would be a total disaster, but I think that’s what the president wants to do. I think he would give up almost anything to cut defense, and that’s a shame,” said Rep. Bill C.W. Young, R-Fla., chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.

Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, incoming chairman of the RSC, said Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. “actually made more progress in a half a day” negotiating with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., than Obama made over the past six months.

“The president should be bringing both parties together. It should be his hand extension that allows the parties to come together. And yet, he’s doing a Heisman,” said Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., putting his hand out in a football-style “stiff arm,” like the famous pose on the trophy awarded annually to the most outstanding college football player.

On House passage of the Senate deal, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said, “The tax deal is broadly acceptable from what I’ve heard.”

But other members voiced pessimism.

Fleming said the substance of Obama’s speech, not the tone, that made him less likely to vote for the Senate deal.

What Obama is “basically saying is, I get the tax increases, but we’re not going to have any cuts. Then he said, going forward, next year, if we have any cuts in spending, we’re going to have commensurate tax increases. So he wants to double down now,” Fleming said.

Brady said House passage would be “difficult” and found provisions in the deal that had been reported “highly objectionable.”

There is already early discussion among Republicans about plans to amend the Senate bill.

“I’ll be a ‘yes’ on the tax piece, but I hope they split it up because I’ll be a ‘no’ on kicking the can down the road on the sequester,” LaTourette said.

Boehner and other members of leadership did not address any plans at the conference meeting, saying the House will wait until the Senate has acted.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., also told members at the meeting to remain near the Capitol in a “good state of mind,” presumably referring to any alcoholic beverages that lawmakers may imbibe on New Year’s Eve.

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