* Some Tea Party-backed members flexible on tax rates
* Obama encouraging more Republicans to stray from leaders
* Might help reach eventual deal on cliff
By Rachelle Younglai and Kim Dixon
WASHINGTON, Nov 30 A growing number of
Republicans in the House of Representatives - including a
handful of Tea Party-backed conservatives - are signaling
greater flexibility than their leaders to reach a "fiscal cliff"
deal with President Barack Obama.
They are not buckling on demands to slash spending or
agreeing with Obama's exact proposals to avert across-the-board
tax hikes and spending cuts set to start on Jan. 1.
But unlike House Speaker John Boehner, they suggest they
would be open to higher tax rates on wealthy Americans as part
of a broader deal to slash deficits.
Obama is hoping to appeal to more potential renegades to get
a deal to avoid the massive tax hikes and spending cuts that
economists say could tip the economy into a recession.
"If we can get a few House Republicans on board, we can pass
the bill ... I'm ready to sign it," Obama said on Friday at an
event in Pennsylvania.
The vast majority of Republicans in the House, led by
Boehner, say they will not accept any higher tax rates,
preferring to increase tax revenue through reforms and closing
But among those newly voicing flexibility is Tea
Party-endorsed Representative Sean Duffy of Wisconsin, who said
he backs a "balanced" approach - adopting the language
Democrats, including Obama, use to describe a tax rate increase
on the rich, although he said he would rather raise revenue in
"I'm not at rates, I'm at revenue, I'm at loopholes," Duffy
said. "But listen, revenue should be revenue, whether you are
doing it by rates or loopholes."
Representative Allen West of Florida, who had strong Tea
Party backing but lost his bid for a second term, said he was
open to a higher tax rate on those earning more than $2 million
- a far higher threshold than Obama's push to raise taxes on
families with net incomes above $250,000 a year.
"If you want to talk about a compromise, that's a fair
compromise," West said. "I want people to get to that million, I
want people to get over that. Small business are 75 to 80
percent of our economy. I want to incentivize them."
Even though West lost his seat, he would still be able to
vote on a fiscal cliff deal since the new Congress is not sworn
in until January.
Justin Amash, another Tea Party movement favorite, said
everything needs to be considered to reduce the country's debt
"I don't think it would be a good idea to raise tax rates,"
said the Michigan representative who identifies himself as a
libertarian. But Amash said: "I am not going to take anything
off the table if we can resolve some of our biggest issues as a
Amash has a perfect conservative voting record according to
the Club for Growth, which evaluated whether freshmen lived up
to their promises of fiscal constraint.
Several members or their aides expressed similar sentiments
earlier in the week, among them seven-term Representative Mike
Simpson of Idaho.
Republicans hold 241 of the 433 seats currently filled in
the House, which has two vacancies. If Democrats vote as a solid
block, they may need another 25 votes from Republicans to extend
expiring tax cuts for 98 percent of taxpayers, as Obama wants,
leaving the wealthiest with tax increases.
These comments contrast with what is still seems to be the
dominant sentiment among Republicans, as voiced by Idaho
Representative Raul Labrador.
"Any Republican who is talking right now about raising taxes
is a fool. They are going on national TV and they are saying
they are going to raise taxes for a phantom deal that doesn't
even exist," Labrador said.
House Republicans also separately expressed concern that
they are losing the publicity edge to Obama.
"We are getting our socks cleaned in the PR wars," said
Representative Pat Tiberi of Ohio.