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Bridget Johnson

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January 1, 2013 - 1:53 pm

House Democrats finished a “standing-room only, three-hour-long” caucus meeting this afternoon that included a pep rally from Vice President Joe Biden on the fiscal cliff deal that passed the Senate early this morning.

Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) told reporters that Biden gave members “a very thoughtful and detailed explanation of what has gone on, and how it was that he and the president, working with the Democratic and Republican leaders in both houses, were able to come together on this compromise.”

“There are people throughout this country who might look at this deal and love it, some might hate it, some may not understand it,” Becerra said.

Putting on a unified front, the Democrats said they were waiting for the final word from the House Republican caucus, where members including Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) have a problem with the bill’s lack of spending cuts.

“I do not support the bill,” Cantor briefly told reporters on his way out of a caucus meeting.

Democrats are calling for an up-or-down bill, regardless. House Republicans are reportedly planning to offer amendments that fix the tax-vs.-spend inequity, but Senate Democrats have indicated that they will not accept an amended bill.

House Democrats also said they expect an up-or-down vote on the bill as it passed the Senate in the wee hours.

“The House will honor its commitment to consider the Senate agreement if it is passed. Decisions about whether the House will seek to accept or promptly amend the measure will not be made until House members — and the American people — have been able to review the legislation,” Republican leaders said in a statement yesterday.

“Up until now our Speaker has said when the Senate acts, we will have a vote in the House. That is what he said. That is what we expect. That is what the American people deserve,” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said. “…Right now our members, after very thoughtful deliberations and review, are continuing to review the legislation, weighing the pros and cons and weighing the equities of not going over the cliff, but we all are very eager to see the form that the Republican leadership will put onto the floor today.”

“Democracy means, as I said, a willingness to come together for the good of the country,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), ranking member on the House Budget Committee.

House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) spokesman said members were being offered various options by the speaker and Cantor and asked for their feedback.
Rep. Nan Hayworth (R-N.Y.) told CNN there was “a whole range of sentiments” in the GOP meeting.

“There is new spending. So that’s a tremendous concern. Are we really going to benefit people? We know we need tax relief. We don’t want everybody’s taxes to go up,” she said.

Hayworth confirmed that the hope is for an amended bill — an “alternative” — to present back to the Senate.

“We need to weigh all the factors. I assure you we are. The discussion was vigorous. It was thoughtful,” she said. “It represented an entire range of views about where we strike the balance between the perfect and the good, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, but we really do have a serious problem on our hands that the president and the Senate have essentially refused to address.”

“The Senate hasn’t passed a budget in more than three years. It’s three-and-a-half years now. And all of a sudden they come up with this last-minute bill. They’re the ones who have really been holding the American economy and the American taxpayer hostage for the past several years. It’s not right.”

A Senate Democratic aide told The Hill that House Republicans have two choices: “cut their losses and pass the deal now, or else put up a fight they cannot win and pass the same deal a few days now after being further humiliated.”

The overwhelming GOP support for the Senate bill at 2 a.m. — from fiscal conservatives including Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) — was seen as a move to put pressure on Republican colleagues in the lower chamber to pass it.

“We have to do more. We have to get our spending under control. We need entitlement reform,” Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) said on CNN. “I pushed for a big deal along with others, but we have to get the work done for the American people. So we can’t get it all done. We need to start doing it in pieces or in chunks.”

Cantor spokesman Rory Cooper issued a tweet a short time ago trying to tamp down speculation about the caucus’ next move: “Folks out there w/ crazy theories about what’s going on in House. All ridiculous. Just figuring out best path forward. Stay calm, carry on.”

“Majority Leader Cantor stands with @SpeakerBoehner. Speculation otherwise is silly, non-productive and untrue,” tweeted Doug Heye, another Cantor spokesman.

“Speaker Boehner and I are working with House Leadership and our conference to find best path forward,” Cantor followed up in a tweet of his own.

UPDATE: Multiple sources say GOP leaders are doing whip counts to proceed directly to a vote on the Senate bill, with no amendments. The vote could happen as early as 9:30 p.m.

UPDATE 2: The House Rules Committee is meeting in a matter of minutes to move forward with Senate bill, clean of amendments.

UPDATE 3: The bill is out of the Rules Committee and headed to the House floor for debate. Vote is expected around 11 p.m.

Bridget Johnson is a career journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.
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