House GOP gives way, fiscal cliff deal almost done

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DENVER -- After the Senate voted 89-8 early Tuesday morning to support a compromise bill to avert the fiscal cliff, Republicans in the House spent most of the day exploring its options.

Ultimately, after it briefly appeared conservative members of the House GOP caucus were ready to torpedo the legislation by amending it to include $300 billion in spending cuts, Republicans were forced to accept reality -- that their only move was to allow the Senate bill an up-or-down vote or be blamed for killing it and allowing the country to slide off the so-called fiscal cliff and perhaps into a second recession.

After a whip count confirmed the obvious, that Speaker John Boehner didn't have enough Republican votes to amend the bill in the first place, Boehner signaled that a floor vote was likely to take place late Tuesday night.

That vote is now scheduled for 8:30 p.m. Mountain time.

The legislation is expected to pass the House with support from some moderate Republicans and almost the entire House Democratic caucus.

On the eve of the vote, Republicans sought to draw attention away from the fiscal cliff denouement and toward another Tuesday vote to prevent members of Congress from receiving a scheduled pay raise.

"Voted tonight to stop Congress from getting a pay raise," tweeted Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, who signalled earlier Tuesday that he opposed the Senate bill because it didn't address spending.

A few minutes later, Gardner tweeted that he will indeed vote no on the Senate bill.

Around 7 p.m. Mountain time, a staffer for Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, told FOX31 Denver that the congressman had yet to decide how he'll vote on the legislation.

Like Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, one of just four Democrats who voted against the bill early Tuesday morning, Gardner and other House Republicans opposed to the bill argue that it doesn't do anything to reduce the nation's deficit.

In fact, the Congressional Budget Office Tuesday estimated that the package, which would extend the Bush tax cuts for all but the richest 16 percent of Americans, is likely to add another $4 trillion to the deficit over the next decade.

As part of the deal hammered out Monday by Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, the looming $109 billion in automatic cuts to defense and domestic spending would be put off for just two months, leaving the next Congress to figure out how to significantly reduce spending.

The package also includes a one-year extension of a Production Tax Credit for wind energy providers, a critical element to Colorado's economy.

After House Republicans caucused Tuesday afternoon, Rep. Eric Cantor, R-VA, the second-ranking member of the caucus, stated he was opposing the bill, the first big sign that the Senate compromise may be in serious trouble.

Gardner, a close confidant of Cantor's, also confirmed that he'll oppose the legislation as it's currently written.

"But [Gardner] will consider an amendment that meets the test of cutting spending, growing the economy (through responsible tax policy) and not burdening an ever growing deficit," Rachel George, Gardner's spokeswoman, told FOX31 Denver in a statement Tuesday afternoon.

Speaker John Boehner, R-OH, indicated early Tuesday morning that he'd bring the Senate bill to the House floor, where it seemed likely to pass with mostly Democrats and some moderate Republicans voting yes.

But the House GOP caucus meeting could send things in a different direction, yet another indication that Cantor may hold more sway over the caucus than the Speaker himself.

Boehner, who has yet to indicate his own position on the legislation, is treading very lightly, attempting to balance the concerns of his caucus with the larger need to avoid blame should this last-ditch legislation blow up.

A rare second House GOP caucus meeting is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.

If House Republicans decide to amend the bill and trying to send it back to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, it's increasingly possible that the deal itself will fall apart, and Americans will blame the House GOP for killing a compromise that most Republicans in the Senate voted to support. 

While the next Congress may be able to pass tax cuts quickly enough in the New Year so that most Americans aren't severely impacted, the repeated failure of the country's political system to negotiate any sort of deal to benefit the country's economy is likely to further cripple consumer confidence and may lead to steep losses when the financial markets reopen Wednesday.