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House Republicans Proceed Along Two Tracks on Cliff Plan

House Republican leaders are proceeding with two options on a fiscal cliff deal passed by the Senate early Tuesday morning, with members expecting to vote Tuesday night.

The course of action came after House Republicans almost uniformly panned the Senate bill (HR 8), which passed 89-8, for not cutting spending enough.

Speaker John A. Boehner presented his members with two options at a second meeting of the Republican Conference on Tuesday evening. The first would be to amend the Senate bill with spending cuts that would be acceptable to the House GOP. That course of action would be dependent on securing 218 votes.

An aide emphasized that Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia warned their members that there was some real risk in passing an amended bill because there is no guarantee the Senate would take it up. Senate Democrats have indicated they absolutely will not consider an amended bill from the House.

“The whole question comes down to whether you take the risk amending the Senate amendment, knowing it may blow up the whole deal,” said Rep. Charles Boustany Jr., R-La.

The second option Boehner laid out was, in the event there weren’t 218 votes to amend the bill, that the House would consider the Senate-passed measure in an up-or-down vote.

Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman C.W. Bill Young of Florida said he thinks leadership is halfheartedly whipping the sequester amendment.

“I think they would be happy if they do not get enough votes on the whip check,” he said. “I think they would be happy to get some closure.”

Boehner left the conference meeting without commenting to reporters, but Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, a veteran member who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee, said, “We’re going to do a little whip check now.”

Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California declined to provide any details of the package of cuts they are expected to whip.

“You’ll see ’em,” McCarthy said. “We are working on them,” he said after being asked a second time.

When asked if he thinks he will have the votes, he said, “I haven’t whipped anything yet.”

The package of cuts is expected to resemble a version of the sequester replacement legislation that passed the House last month that was supposed to run in tandem with the speaker’s failed “plan B” tax plan.

Rep. John Fleming, an influential conservative from Louisiana, said he will vote against the Senate-passed bill, but the sentiment in the conference was that the Senate version would eventually go to the floor and pass with mostly Democrats.

Rep. Steven C. LaTourette of Ohio, an influential moderate and close ally of the speaker, said he expected the votes to take place Tuesday night and that the House should acknowledge the situation at hand.

“I would vote in favor of it. … We’ve been whupped in this fight,” LaTourette told CNN. He added that he does think the Senate bill will pass.

“I do think you could get enough Republican votes to pass it.”

He also took the time to defend his longtime friend, Boehner. “The speaker’s a pragmatist and an institutionalist.”

Another influential GOP moderate, Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, said he would vote for the Senate bill and doesn’t want to try to amend it because there’s no telling what the Senate might do in response.

Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas of Oklahoma indicated he would likely vote for the Senate version because of the nine-month extension of the farm bill: “It would appear to me that the farm bill extension language that’s in the Senate version at this moment is the best way to address the milk cliff.”

Sam Goldfarb, Emily Holden, Niels Lesniewski and David Harrison contributed to this report.

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