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GOP fears reelected Obama would have the upper hand on taxes

GOP fears reelected Obama would have the upper hand on taxes

House Republicans are increasingly concerned that a victory by President Obama in November would back them into a corner on taxes.

Democrats on Capitol Hill are vocal supporters of allowing current tax rates to increase for the highest earners, and Obama has made that plank central to his reelection message in the race against GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

Some Republican lawmakers say voters would be giving Obama a mandate for tax increases if they elect him to a second term, and predict the president would have leverage to make that happen in post-election negotiations over the “fiscal cliff.”

“I think that is inevitable. If he is reelected, taxes will go up, and regulations will increase,” said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho). “He will veto anything that we send him.”

Republicans noted that Obama has made his position clear, vowing never again to extend all the Bush-era tax rates after consenting to that move during the 2010 lame-duck session of Congress.

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“It is a referendum, clearly, on the choice between, is the problem that Washington spends too much, or does it take too little of people’s income? From that standpoint, it is a referendum on higher taxes,” said Rep. Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyMcConnell presses for 'actual consequences' in disclosure of tax data On The Money: House Democrats line up .5T in spending without budget | GOP takes aim at IRS | House Democrat mulls wealth tax Republicans open new line of attack on IRS MORE (R-Texas), a senior member of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.

“If the president’s reelected, he’s going to dig in his heels for those higher taxes,” he said.

But Brady also said he wouldn’t back any sort of tax increase, nor did he think that the GOP conference would.

The view that an Obama victory would represent a mandate for tax increases on the wealthy is far from unanimous among the House GOP, with differences of opinion cutting through the Republican leadership, veteran members and the hard-charging freshman class.

On Friday, Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerAre maskless House members scofflaws? Israel, Democrats and the problem of the Middle East Joe Crowley to register as lobbyist for recording artists MORE (R-Ohio) pushed back on the idea that an Obama win would be a mandate for tax increases, not long after Majority Leader Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorBottom line Virginia GOP candidates for governor gear up for convention Cantor: 'Level of craziness' in Washington has increased 'on both sides' MORE (R-Va.) and Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) suggested that the presidential election would be decisive on that score.

“Raising taxes, according to Ernst and Young, would threaten our economy with a loss of 700,000 jobs ... now why would I ever be for something like that?” BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerAre maskless House members scofflaws? Israel, Democrats and the problem of the Middle East Joe Crowley to register as lobbyist for recording artists MORE said.

So far this Congress, Republicans in the House and the Senate have been united in opposing the Democratic proposal to allow current rates to rise on family income above $250,000 per year.

The vast majority of GOP lawmakers have signed a pledge from Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform promising to oppose all tax increases, and the House overwhelmingly passed a bill in August to extend all current tax rates for a year.

But Republicans are also eager to avoid the automatic spending cuts set to start in January that would slash heavily from defense and national security.

GOP defense hawks like Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP group launches million ad campaign pressing Kelly on filibuster Heatwaves don't lie: Telling the truth about climate change Overnight Energy: Lake Mead's decline points to scary water future in West | White House leads opposition to raising gas tax | Biden taps ex-New Mexico lawmaker for USDA post MORE (Ariz.) have sounded more open to using revenue increases to avoid those cuts. If more Republicans take that position, it could give Democrats the upper-hand in the lame-duck negotiations.

“In my view, their position becomes less and less defensible every day that goes on,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee. “Because come January, unless they agree to provide tax relief to 98 percent of Americans, those taxes are going to go up.”

House GOP leaders would only need a small minority of their conference to pass any measure extending tax cuts up to $250,000 of family income, given that Democrats support that proposal.

And while members of the GOP rank-and-file on Friday said they remain steadfast against tax increases, some said the votes would likely be there if leadership needed them.

“I would not,” Rep. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottWhite House says Biden crime address won't undercut police reform bill Sen. Manchin paves way for a telehealth revolution Kerry Washington backs For the People Act: 'Black and Brown voters are being specifically targeted' MORE (R-S.C.) said when asked if the votes could be found to pass a high-end tax increase. “Enough [votes], probably.”

Top Republican officials say it is difficult to predict exactly what the political environment would look like in the immediate aftermath of an Obama victory. The newly reelected president could, for example, use his moment of maximum leverage to demand that Congress extend tax rates for the middle class, creating enormous pressure for Republicans coming off a loss at the polls.

Yet Republicans are adamant that they will not relent on taxes in that environment without a significant concession from Democrats, likely relating to the automatic cuts in defense spending.

Still, Norquist, who Democrats often blame for the partisan gridlock on cutting the federal deficit, said that a narrow Obama victory over Romney wouldn’t translate into a mandate for tax hikes.

“This is not a country that is excited about looting other people or getting looted,” Norquist told The Hill.

Along those same lines, several House Republicans said that they would try to claim just as much of a mandate should they keep control of the chamber, as most independent analysts predict they will.

“The House is standing on the principle that Americans already pay enough taxes,” Rep. Andy Harris (Md.), a member of the GOP freshman class, told The Hill. “An election’s not going to change that principle.”

If both Obama and the House GOP try to claim the electoral high ground, it could set the stage for one final round of brinkmanship for the divided Congress.

Economic analysts have said that the full force of the fiscal cliff – which largely consists of the expiration of Bush-era rates and the automatic spending cuts – would push the U.S. back into recession.

Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio), who is not seeking reelection this year after saying he had tired of Washington’s paralysis, predicted an Obama victory would lead to the sort of “Mexican standoff” that occurred over raising the debt ceiling last year.

“I don’t know what it would look like, but it would be a negotiation — not a capitulation,” said LaTourette, who has also pushed back against Norquist’s no-tax pledge.

Russell Berman and Molly K. Hooper contributed.