GOP bloc: Block tax-rate hike

The leaders of a large bloc of House conservatives said Republicans should not agree to tax-rate increases even if Democrats consent to significant spending cuts and entitlement reforms.

“It’s a joke to go down this road. You just can’t,” the outgoing chairman of the Republican Study Committee (RSC), Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), said Tuesday. “You can’t go there. You just cannot go there.”

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President Obama has demanded that tax rates rise on family income above $250,000 a year, and some Republicans in both the House and Senate in recent weeks have said they could support an increase in rates on the wealthy as part of a broader deficit deal.

Jordan and Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the newly elected RSC chairman, both rejected that possibility in a joint appearance at the American Enterprise Institute.

“I wouldn’t be supporting a plan that raises taxes,” Scalise said.

But Jordan, who remains the leader of the group until next month, offered no guarantees that he and the RSC leadership would be able to stop a tax-increasing agreement endorsed by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) from passing the House.

“I don’t know,” Jordan said in response to a question. “Look, if it’s got a tax-rate increase in it, I’m not going to be for it. And I think there’s lots of members that won’t be for it. But we all know the RSC doesn’t always function as a unit.”

If Congress doesn’t act by Jan. 1, taxes for almost everyone in the country will go up under current law, and deep automatic spending cuts will kick in.

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Boehner has repeatedly lost the votes of dozens of conservatives in agreements with the White House over the last two years, but has been able to survive the defections and pass legislation with help from House Democrats.

Any agreement he strikes with Obama on the fiscal cliff is expected to follow the same pattern, limiting the power of the RSC leadership to block a bipartisan deal. The conservative panel counts about two-thirds of the Republican Conference as members, but many fall into line with leadership.

Jordan and Scalise both criticized a move by House GOP leaders to remove four members, including three conservatives, from key committees after they regularly voted against and criticized the leadership in the last two years.

“I think it’s wrong. I think its unfortunate. I think it’s not healthy,” Jordan said, adding that he hoped the situation could be rectified. “It makes absolutely no sense.”