Right also feels angst on tax bill

A growing number of Republican lawmakers in the House say they will oppose the tax-cut bill that is headed their way.

The intensifying criticism on the right of the tax measure does not threaten the bill’s chances of passing if the measure is brought to a vote. But it is an indication that there is some unease in the House GOP conference about the tax-cut deal struck by GOP leaders and the White House.

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A possible presidential candidate, Tea Party lawmakers and a House member who is weighing a Senate bid will vote no, or are likely to vote no, on the compromise.

Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), who is expected to launch a gubernatorial or presidential bid next year, is a firm no.

“At the end of the day, I’ve just come to the conclusion: The American people did not vote for more stimulus,” Pence said on conservative commentator Sean Hannity’s radio show. “Therefore, I will not vote for this tax deal when it comes to the floor of the House of Representatives.”

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who is eyeing a primary challenge to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) in 2012, is planning to vote no. Hatch supports the tax-cut deal.

Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Steve King (R-Iowa), leaders of the Tea Party movement, have also raised some major concerns. Meanwhile, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), one of the most influential conservatives in the country, voted against the measure on Tuesday. The $858 billion bill, however, easily passed the Senate with bipartisan support.

The tax-cut bill bears certain features similar to controversial legislation Democrats passed this Congress, such as the fact it was negotiated behind closed doors and carries a large price tag that will balloon the federal deficit. And voting yes on a bill blessed by the White House could be used as political ammunition for primary challengers in the 2012 cycle.

Unlike the healthcare and stimulus bills, the tax measure does not take hours to read: It is 74 pages.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who will lead the Oversight and Government Reform Committee next year, spoke out against the accord on Tuesday: “While it does accomplish the important short-term goal of avoiding massive and immediate tax increases that would harm our economy and kill more jobs, the policy of institutionalizing uncertainty in our tax system could limit the pace of an economic recovery.”

Other major players in the GOP, ranging from Sarah Palin to Rush Limbaugh to Glenn Beck, have publicly ripped the bill. On Tuesday, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) came out against it.

Some conservatives note that the 13-month unemployment benefit extension is not offset by other cuts in government spending. Those provisions, they point out, will add more than $56 billion to the deficit.

Liberals who oppose the bill say that most of the package is composed of tax cuts, which are also not paid for.

If House Democrats seek to change the Senate-passed bill, Republicans say that will represent a clear violation of the agreement.

An aide close to key conservative members of the GOP conference told The Hill that the current deal, including a two-year across-the-board tax-rate extension and the 35 percent estate-tax provision, “is a very carefully crafted package, and if the House Democrats insist on changes … it could very well blow it up.”

Asked if GOP lawmakers would oppose changes to the deal, conservative Rep. and Sen.-elect John Boozman (R-Ark.) said, “I think so. They’re not crazy about it anyhow, but I feel like there’s a deal in place, but if you start changing that, that definitely changes [our support.]”

Changing the bill at the eleventh hour would give fence-sitting conservatives a reason to vote against the package, Boozman explained. Most people on Capitol Hill believe the House will bend and ultimately pass the Senate bill, which is strongly supported by Obama.

A GOP leadership aide predicted that “all new leadership would be there for the vote and that most conservatives would conclude that stopping the tax increases is a net benefit, when you look at the entirety of the package.”

After smiling quietly to themselves last week, some GOP members privately worry that extending jobless benefits without making spending cuts elsewhere will stick in the minds of voters.

Heading into the weekend, conservative GOP Rep. Jack Kingston (Ga.) was in favor of the deal, but after a few days of reflection, he has joined the ranks of fence-sitting Republicans. He has major reservations about not paying for the unemployment benefit provisions.

Kevin Hassett, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute who served as an adviser on President George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign, praised the deal. He said that “if you told me six months ago that we’re going [to get this deal] … I’d tell you you were crazy — no way they’d get a deal that good.”

Hassett said that even if conservative firebrands oppose the deal, it will still pass at the end of the day.

“Since it’s a bipartisan deal, they don’t need 99 percent of those to vote to win. The people on the edge, the people who are worried about it, the people more closely associated with the Tea Party, they’ll vote against, and do so in a manner that doesn’t defeat the whole thing,” Hassett added.

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