WASHINGTON -- Subdued House Republicans Tuesday evening resigned themselves to passing the Senate's "fiscal cliff" bill, backing away from threats earlier in the day to amend the deal with cuts.
The GOP called a hearing in the Rules Committee on the Senate measure, which is a precursor to holding a vote.
After their second conference meeting of the day, lawmakers said they were likely to punt on launching a fresh showdown with the Democratic-led Senate. Many appeared to concede that the end result would be an up-or-down vote on the Senate-passed fiscal cliff deal without any amendments. At least one lawmaker added his belief that with House Democratic support, the bill would end up making it into law.
"There are some Republicans who do support this along with Democrats," Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) said after the meeting, adding that he thought the number would be sufficient to get the Senate-passed bill through the House.
"When you have a bill passed with so many Republicans in the Senate, it probably would get a similar result [in the House]," Fleming said, comparing the situation to the 2011 end-of-year battle over the payroll tax cuts, which the House balked at then ultimately passed after 89 senators had voted for them -- the same as voted early Tuesday for the fiscal cliff deal.
Fleming said he himself does not support the bill but thought it would be a "waste of time" to change it when Senate Democratic leaders have already said they would reject any amendments to the legislation. House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) said the same earlier in the day. A Democratic aide, meanwhile, confirmed that addition amendments in the House "would just kill this thing," in the Senate.
Fleming was confident that most Republicans did not want to go down that road.
“I think they're unlikely to take it up," he added.
After an initial uproar over the Senate bill's content -- namely, the lack of spending cuts within -- House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) presented his caucus with two options. The first was to amend the bill with approximately $328 billion in spending cuts. If a majority commit to passing it, he'd bring it to the floor. The second was to hold a vote on the Senate-passed legislation with no amendments.
Republicans seemed to be looking forward to future chances to extract cuts.
"We still have more opportunities. We've got the debt ceiling coming, sequestration," Fleming said. "So we're going to get taxes off the table. The president can't say, 'We've go to raise taxes first before we get to spending cuts.' We will have already done that.Now the topic will be spending cuts, from this point out."
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) was among the first to leave the meeting, with a look of frustration cast over his face. He said Republicans were “trying to be smart about doing the right thing,” and bemoaned the situation the party has found itself in -- which he felt reaffirmed his opinion all along that the GOP should accept President Barack Obama’s initial offer to extend Bush era tax rates for incomes below $250,000 and allow those for the top 2 percent to expire.
“I would argue we would have been better off had we done that, because we wouldn't have spent the last four weeks talking about spending cuts and entitlement reform and I think we would have still kicked the matter up,” Cole told HuffPost. “But it's pretty easy to say that was my advice and had it been taken, everything would have been perfect.”
Cole added that he was “enormously concerned” about sending the bill back to the Senate with amendments that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) simply would not entertain.
The confusion over the House GOP's legislative strategy prompted talk of disagreement between Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). Reports of a rift between the two men surfaced after the first GOP caucus meeting earlier in the day, with Cantor coming out against the Senate-passed bill and proposing to essentially kill it. Boehner explained to his members that he would vote for the Senate bill, it that were the choice, according to Rep. Richard Nugent (R-Fla.).
Cantor spokesman Doug Heye pushed back against rumors of infighting, tweeting, "Majority Leader Cantor stands with @SpeakerBoehner. Speculation otherwise is silly, non-productive and untrue." But Fleming said he did not feel the two Republican leaders were on the same page.
"I think there's a division between the Speaker and the Leader on this. The only thing I know is the Leader said that he personally did not support the Speaker," Fleming said. "I heard the Speaker say he is going to vote for the bill -- we're talking without amendments. [But] it's always possible the Leader will vote with Speaker Boehner just in unity even though he personally doesn't support it."
What remains undecided is how many House Republicans and Democrats would be needed should a vote on the Senate bill would come to a vote, either on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. As the measure stands now, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi would push Democrats to hold their noses and back the bill, which is not enthusiastically supported in her caucus. There could be around 150 Democratic votes in favor, meaning fewer than 70 Republicans would have to sign on.