In an altered post-election political landscape, avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff will depend not only on John Boehner cooperating with the president, but also whether he can deliver his own caucus.
On a conference call with House Republicans a day after the party's electoral battering last week, John A. Boehner, the House Speaker, dished out some bitter medicine, and for the first time in the 112th Congress, most members took their dose.
Their party lost, badly, Mr. Boehner said, and while Republicans would still control the House and would continue to staunchly oppose tax rate increases as Congress grapples with the impending fiscal battle, they had to avoid the nasty showdowns of the past two years.
Members on the call, subdued and dark, murmured words of support - - even a few who had been a thorn in the speaker's side for much of this Congress.
It was a striking contrast to a similar call last year, when Mr. Boehner tried to persuade members to compromise with Democrats on a deal to extend a temporary cut in payroll taxes, only to have them loudly revolt.
With President Barack Obama re-elected and Democrats cementing control of the Senate, Mr. Boehner will need to capitalize on the chastened faction of the House Republicans that wants to cut a deal to avert sudden tax increases and across-the-board spending cuts in January that could send the economy back into recession. After spending two years marooned between the will of his loud and fractious party members and the Democratic Senate majority, the speaker is trying to assert control, and many members seem to be offering support.
"To have a voice at the bargaining table, John Boehner has to be strong," said Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, one of the speaker's lieutenants. "Most members were just taught a lesson that you're not going to get everything that you want.It was that kind of election."
Aides say this is an altered political landscape that Mr. Boehner did not expect. As a result, whether the nation can avoid the so- called fiscal cliff will depend not only on whether Mr. Boehner can find common cause with a newly re-elected, invigorated president, but also whether he can deliver his own caucus.
"I just believe John will have more leeway than in the past Congress," said Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York. "The election will matter."
The divide between Mr. Obama and Mr. Boehner appears wide. In their Saturday addresses, the president demanded immediate House passage of a bill approved by the Senate that would extend the expiring Bush-era tax cuts for households earning less than $250,000, while the speaker said raising tax rates on anyone would be unacceptable.
But beneath the posturing, both men were keeping open avenues of negotiation. Mr. Obama was careful to call for more revenue, not higher tax rates, a demand that could be fulfilled by ending or limiting tax deductions and credits, a path Mr. Boehner has accepted.
The question over what to do about the expiring tax cuts would be swept aside if the parties could reach an agreement before then to overhaul the tax code completely -- and render obsolete the current structure of six income tax rates, all of which would rise on Jan. 1.
Even so, some Republicans have issued a stern warning to Mr. Boehner that he cannot expect their votes if he makes a deal with
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