House Speaker John Boehner told Republicans on Tuesday that he was moving to a new track in negotiations, so-called “Plan B.” National Journal caught up with House lawmakers who attended a closed-door meeting with Boehner on the cliff negotiations. Here’s what they had to say:
MEETING WAS 'FUN,' CALM
Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., said the mood was “pretty congenial considering how close we are to things, but still no definite proposals.”
Asked how Boehner opened the meeting, Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said, “Like we always do. It's always fun.”
Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., added of Boehner, “He's always the same. He's a very calm person, talks very thoughtfully about it. He just thinks about what we have to get accomplished.”
LOTS OF PRAISE FOR BOEHNER…
Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., said he’s “more than satisfied” with how Boehner has conducted negotiations. “The speaker has been very pragmatic, very reasonable, but at the same time has not in any way compromised our core beliefs or values,” he said.
“He's got a lot of support,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. “This is a negotiation between the president and the speaker, and the speaker's got the support of his conference.”
“Clearly the Speaker is frustrated with the lack of responsiveness from the president and the White House staff. He’s trying to come up with a way to make things happen,” said Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., who chairs the House Agriculture Committee. “I respect and understand that. I have been trying to work on a farm bill for a while. I have some of the same frustrations.
“We're all gonna support our Speaker,” Texas Rep. Pete Sessions said when asked whether anyone had voiced concern about Boehner’s plans. Asked why, he said, “Because we're not cliff divers.”
…BUT CONCERNS ABOUT THE NEW DIRECTION OF TALKS
A conservative House Republican who did not want to speak on the record for fear of angering party leaders said that he was frustrated by the direction of the talks. He said that once Republicans publicly concede to supporting a tax increase such as voting for a proposal such as a potential “Plan B” that includes a tax increase, he fears Republicans will have lost the moral high ground on the issue. What the ultimate negotiated cut-off number is will become irrelevant at that point, he said, because Republicans will have conceded on the philosophical issue to the White House and will have become a party that supports tax increases.
NEED CLARITY, CUTS ON SPENDING SIDE
“If I heard one common theme, it was the lack of clarity on spending,” Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., said of the morning’s closed-door meeting. “If, indeed, we can't save 100 percent of the electorate from a tax increase, what kind of spending-reduction promises are we getting in return?” he said. “And it's pretty clear that there's not a lot of that in this particular Plan B proposal so I think that's probably going to be what is going to divide the conference.”
“On the revenue side it's something I could support, but it has to be connected with other types of reform on spending. If we can get the revenue element done and dealt with, then we can get to the heavy lifting on our side,” said Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Wis.
Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., said the direction for Republicans is up in the air but that spending cuts need to be part of the ultimate package. “There’s still a desire for spending cuts to get the deficit in control. That’s the main driver of the problem. If we aren’t going to cure the problem why are we going to try to fool the American public?” he said.
WITH AN OBAMA PRESIDENCY, DAMAGE CONTROL
"We've got to remember that the president won. Upon winning we all knew that taxes were going up. Now it's just a situation of damage control. How much damage control can we do to preserve the taxpayers of this country?” said Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla.
“I think that the president is bound and determined to raise taxes and the law says there will be an automatic tax increase. The American public voted for this president. Now I think that’s an issue that has to be faced, and the Republican conference is looking at all options,” said Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich.
THE FUTURE OF THE PARTY
“Once you cross that line and say it’s OK for some people’s taxes to go up, I think it’s a mistake for the Republican Party, so I think that’s what I think a lot of members are struggling with,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio.
GETTING CLOSER TO A DEAL…
“I think it moves us closer to an arrangement, a deal. I think this is very much between the president and the speaker at this point. There are still a lot of spending cuts and entitlement reforms on the table, and we all want as many of those as we can possibly get,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla.
“I think the speaker has been pretty forthright all the way along saying that the president has to be engaged in this, he has to address the spending side equation. But I just want to reiterate there is no agreement, there is no agreement right now,” said Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash.
“The White House appears to be pushing us towards the cliff. They think they win either way. So it’s a very nervous time for the country,” said Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M.
Michael Catalini, Niraj Chokshi, Shane Goldmacher, Elahe Izadi, Stacy Kaper, Rebecca Kaplan, Erin Mershon and Ben Terris contributed.