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Cliff Deal Turns the Screws on Boehner and the GOP

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Boehner must appease colleagues who are eager to shrink the size of the federal government, while not downsizing entitlement programs such as Medicare in a way that invites a voter backlash.

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The year-end fiscal crisis is turning the political screws on John Boehner and the Republican Party. Their challenge is twofold: 1. Convince voters and the President that raising tax rates exclusively on the wealthy will fall short of reducing the deficit while harming the economy, and 2. Reveal how and when they'll cut spending over the next decade.

Boehner must appease colleagues who are eager to shrink the size of the federal government, while not downsizing entitlement programs such as Medicare in a way that invites a voter backlash. This is the next critical phase in negotiations with President Obama over a deal to stunt the growing deficit and bypass more than $600 billion in recession-inducing tax hikes and slashed expenditures that are scheduled for next year.

It's as much about the math as the ideology. The House Republican majority pretty much vilified Obama's plan to increase tax rates for wealthier Americans-which would generate $1.6 trillion over the next decade as part of framework for trimming the deficit by $4 trillion.

But without a drastic tax increase, the GOP will likely need to slice more deeply into entitlement programs such as Medicare than the roughly $400 billion worth of entitlement reductions floated by the White House. Boehner tried to deflect questions on "Fox News Sunday" about whether one particularly contentious cut-raising the eligibility age for Medicare insurance from 65-years old-is a possibility.

"There are a lot of items on the table," the Ohio congressman said. "The president knows what they are. The question is: what are they willing to do?"

Even if Obama has insight into what Republican leaders have proposed, the public doesn't. Republican congressional leaders have emphasized the possibility of capping Medicare benefits for better-off recipients, but specific dollar figures have yet to be highlighted. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., assured reporters on Friday that the president would receive an outline of entitlement reforms. "We're not interested in playing rope-a-dope," he said.

Scaring seniors could devastate the GOP come 2014. About 44 percent of the electorate this year was older than 50 and they overwhelmingly preferred Republicans. Exit polls by the Associated Press showed the GOP enjoyed a five-point margin among 50 to 64-year olds who favored Republicans, an edge that increased to 12 percentage points among those older than 65.

Some congressional Republicans wish their caucus would be more audacious in downsizing the federal government. The $4 trillion figure cited as part of a "grand bargain" between Obama and Boehner would still enable the national debt to continue growing beyond its current $16.2 trillion level, instead of actually paying it down.

"If we have real reform, real cuts, and we deal today with our entitlement spending, I think that would be success," Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, told The Fiscal Times. "I'm personally interested in $10 trillion. Over the next ten years, we're going to raise the debt by $10 trillion. We need to stop raising the debt."



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