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.
Also on HuffPost:
The U.S. incarcerates its citizens at a rate roughly <a href="http://www.parade.com/news/2009/03/why-we-must-fix-our-prisons.html" target="_hplink">five times higher than the global average</a>. We have about 5 percent of the world's population, but 25 percent of its prisoners, according to The Economist,. This status quo costs our local, state and federal governments a combined $68 billion a year -- all of which becomes a federal problem during recessions, when states look to Washington for fiscal relief. Over the standard 10-year budget window used in Congress, that's a $680 billion hit to the deficit. Solving longstanding prison problems -- releasing elderly convicts unlikely to commit crimes, offering treatment or counseling as an alternative to prison for non-violent offenders, slightly shortening the sentences of well-behaved inmates, and substituting probation for more jail-time -- would do wonders for government spending.
End Of The Drug War
The federal government spends more than <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18563_162-20072096.html" target="_hplink">$15 billion a year</a> investigating and prosecuting the War on Drugs. That's $150 billion in Washington budget-speak, and it doesn't include the far higher costs of incarcerating millions of people for doing drugs. This money isn't getting the government the results it wants. As drug war budgets balloon, drug use escalates. Ending the Drug War offers the government two separate budget boons. In addition to saving all the money spending investigating, prosecuting and incarcerating drug offenders, Uncle Sam could actually regulate and tax drugs like marijuana, generating new revenue. Studies by pot legalization advocates indicate that fully legalizing weed in California would yield <a href="http://canorml.org/background/CA_legalization2.html" target="_hplink">up to $18 billion annually</a> for that state's government alone. For the feds, the benefits are even sweeter.
Let Medicare Negotiate With Big Pharma
The U.S. has <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2009/06/01/us-healthcare-costs-sb-idUSTRE5504Z320090601" target="_hplink">higher health care costs than any other country</a>. We spend over 15 percent of our total economic output each year on health care -- roughly 50 percent more than Canada, and double what the U.K. spends. Why? The American private health care system is inefficient, and the intellectual property rules involving medication in the U.S. can make prescription drugs much more expensive than in other countries. Medicare currently spends about $50 billion a year on prescription drugs. According to economist Dean Baker, <a href="http://www.cepr.net/documents/publications/intellectual_property_2004_09.pdf" target="_hplink">Americans spend roughly 10 times more than they need to</a> on prescription drugs as a result of our unique intellectual property standards. These savings for the government, of course, would come from the pockets of major pharmaceutical companies, currently among the most profitable corporations the world has ever known. They also exercise tremendous clout inside the Beltway. President Barack Obama even <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/02/barack-obama-politics_n_1847947.html" target="_hplink">guaranteed drug companies more restrictive -- and lucrative -- intellectual property standards</a> in order to garner their support for the Affordable Care Act.
Offshore Tax Havens
The U.S. Treasury Department estimates that it loses about <a href="http://www.ctj.org/pdf/stopact.pdf" target="_hplink">$100 billion a year</a> in revenue due to offshore tax haven abuses. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) has been pushing legislation for years to rein in this absurd tax maneuvering, but corporate lobbying on Capitol Hill has prevented the bill from becoming law.
Deprivatize Government Contract Work
In recent years, the federal government has privatized an enormous portion of public projects to government contractors. Over the past decade, the federal government's staffing has held steady, while the number of federal contractors has <a href="http://pogoarchives.org/m/co/igf/bad-business-report-only-2011.pdf" target="_hplink">increased by millions</a>. This outsourcing has resulted in much higher costs for the government than would be incurred by simply doing the work in-house. On average, contractors are paid <a href="http://pogoarchives.org/m/co/igf/bad-business-report-only-2011.pdf" target="_hplink">nearly double</a> what a comparable federal employee would receive for the same job, according to the Project On Government Oversight.
Print More Money
There's an old saying in economics: You have to print money to make money. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/09/underwear-sales-growth-economy_n_1952214.html" target="_hplink">Okay, there's no such saying</a>. Nevertheless, the great boogeyman of many conservative economic doctrines -- inflation -- isn't such a bad idea during periods where much of the citizenry is drowning in debt. Inflation is by no means a perfect remedy: it's a stealth cut to workers' wages. But it also has many benefits that are often unacknowledged by the Washington intelligentsia. Inflation makes housing debt, student loan debt and any other private-sector debt more manageable. Today, when <a href="http://www.corelogic.com/about-us/researchtrends/asset_upload_file448_16434.pdf" target="_hplink">10.8 million</a> homes are underwater -- meaning borrowers owe banks than their houses are worth, moderate inflation could ease that debt burden. By effectively reducing monthly bills, moderate inflation could actually put more money in the pockets of these homeowners to spend elsewhere, thus stimulating the economy. Moderate inflation -- 5 percent or so -- could also help alleviate the <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505145_162-57555780/student-loan-debt-nears-$1-trillion-is-it-the-new-subprime/" target="_hplink">$1 trillion</a> in student debt currently plaguing America's graduates. Make no mistake -- hyperinflation of 20 percent, 30 percent or more -- is bad. But the U.S. has ways to crush inflation when it gets out of hand, as proven by the Federal Reserve under then-Chairman Paul Volcker in the early-1980s.
Print Less Money
The government prints a <em>lot</em> of $1 bills. But it turns out that minting $1 coins is much, much cheaper. Over the course of 30 years, the government could save $4.4 billion by switching from dollar bills to dollar coins. Here's looking at you, <a href="http://www.usmint.gov/mint_programs/nativeamerican/" target="_hplink">Sacagawea</a>.
Immigration: Less Detention, More Ankle Bracelets
The government spends <a href="http://newamericamedia.org/2012/04/ice-slow-to-embrace-alternatives-to-immigrant-detention.php" target="_hplink"> $122 per person, per day</a> detaining immigrants who are considered safe and unlikely to commit crimes. The government has plenty of other options available to monitor such people, at a cost of as little as $15 per person. For the first 205 years of America's existence, there was no federal system for detaining immigrants. The process began in 1981.
Financial Speculation Tax
Wall Street loves to gamble. In good times, financial speculation is the source of tremendous profits in America's banking system, but when the bets go bad, the government picks up the tab, as evidenced by the epic bank bailouts of 2008 and 2009. Unfortunately, this speculation is difficult to define in legalistic terminology and even more difficult to police. One solution? By taxing every financial trade at the ultra-low rate of 0.25 percent, the U.S. government can impose a modest incentive against gambling for the sheer sake of gambling. If there's an immediate cost to placing a bet, a lot of traders will choose not to bet. What's more, this tax could raise about <a href="http://www.ips-dc.org/media/why_a_financial_transaction_tax" target="_hplink">$150 billion a year</a> for the federal government.
Taxing greenhouse gases would generate $80 billion a year right now, and up to $310 billion a year by 2050, <a href="http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2012/07/carbon-tax-mckibbin-morris-wilcoxen" target="_hplink">according to an analysis by the Brookings Institution</a>. It would also help avert catastrophic ecological and economic damage from climate change.