This time around, the chief problem is whether and how to bring in new revenue as part of a deal to avoid $500 billion in tax increases and spending cuts due to start in January. Boehner has indicated a fresh willingness to include new tax money in an agreement, but how far he wants to go is unclear even to his own wary members.
Many Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, continue to say that projected revenue from economic growth is the only kind of higher tax collection they will support.
“If both sides agree that we can get more revenue through economic growth, then we can agree,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.). But he said any proposal brokered by Boehner that would bring in new money through higher tax burdens would “split the party wide open.”
Boehner stands atop a nearly unchanged caucus of conservatives who have spent their first week back in Washington since the Nov. 6 election bucking one another up as the town’s last check on Democratic power. Rather than feeling chastened by the Democratic gains, many House conservatives say they feel empowered by Americans’ renewed endorsement of divided government.
Their hard-line approach could complicate Boehner’s effort to reach a deal with the White House, particularly with Democrats now equally determined to use their electoral victories to ensure higher taxes on the rich as part of a deficit-reduction deal.
Already, Obama has opened talks indicating that he would like to see $1.6 trillion in new revenue — double what Boehner had offered in secret debt-reduction talks with the president in the summer of 2011.
At a Capitol Hill event called “Conservations With Conservatives” this week, a group of House members repeatedly scoffed at the notion that Obama’s win, with just over 50 percent of the popular vote, gives him a mandate on the tax issue.
“He has a mandate to talk about it,” said Rep. Raul R. Labrador (R-Idaho). “And we have a mandate to fight it. We will continue to fight any members of our conference who believe that this is the time to raise taxes.”
In private and public pep talks, Boehner has encouraged his members not to relinquish their role as a limit on Obama’s second-term agenda.
“Our majority is a primary line of defense for the American people against a government that spends too much, borrows too much when left unchecked,” he said Wednesday, shortly after his colleagues unanimously reelected him as speaker.
Many Democrats insist that a deal must allow President George W. Bush-era cuts in tax rates to expire on schedule next month for those making a net income of more than $250,000 a year. That would mean allowing the top marginal income tax rate to rise from 35 percent to 39.6 percent, where it stood under President Bill Clinton.