* Conservative Republicans say Boehner offering "tax hike"
* House Speaker leads purge of party dissidents from key
* Top Senate Republican stops short of endorsing Boehner
By David Lawder and Thomas Ferraro
WASHINGTON, Dec 4 U.S. congressional Republicans
had wanted to show a united front against President Barack
Obama's demand for tax hikes, but their tenuous coalition showed
signs of strain on Tuesday.
Just a day after House Speaker John Boehner unveiled a
"fiscal cliff" counteroffer with some concessions on revenues,
he faced a criticism from some conservatives and what appeared
to be a wait-and-see approach from others.
As lawmakers voiced their opinions, Boehner presided over a
purge of some Republicans regarded as party dissidents from plum
House committee assignments. One of those ousted called the
moves "petty" and "vindictive."
The infighting threatened to undermine Republicans'
negotiating position as Congress and the White House try to
avoid $600 billion worth of automatic tax hikes and spending
cuts in the new year by reaching a landmark deal to shrink
The top U.S. Senate Republican offered only tepid support,
stopping well short of endorsing Boehner's offer to increase
revenues by $800 billion by eliminating tax deductions and
"I think it is important that the House Republican
leadership has tried to move the process forward," Senate
Republican leader Mitch McConnell told reporters.
Many Republicans, especially the most conservative, see the
offer as the very tax hike they pledged to avoid, even though it
would not increase rates.
Obama stood firm on his demand that tax rates on the
wealthiest must rise as part of a deal to avert the fiscal
Senator Jim DeMint, of South Carolina, a favorite of the
anti-tax Tea Party movement, said the plan would "destroy jobs"
and let Washington continue to grow U.S. deficits.
DeMint's comments, along with criticism from other
conservative lawmakers, showed Boehner faces pressure to stand
firm against raising taxes while some in his ranks believe he
needs to do so to obtain the elusive common ground with Obama's
"This isn't rocket science. Everyone knows that when you
take money out of the economy (with tax hikes), it destroys
jobs, and everyone knows that when you give politicians more
money, they spend it," DeMint said.
"This is why Republicans must oppose tax increases and
insist on real spending reductions that shrink the size of
government and allow Americans to keep more of their hard-earned
money," the South Carolina Republican said.
Republican Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma - who last
week suggested Republicans cave to Obama's demands to renew tax
cuts for income of up to $250,000 while allowing those on higher
income to expire next month - voiced support for Boehner.
"There is a difference between suggesting a play to the
quarterback and tackling him when he runs something else," Cole
"I recognize that the speaker makes the final call and he
has my complete support," Cole said, predicting Boehner will
reach a bipartisan deal that's backed by most House Republicans.
"I sense cautious optimism," Cole said.
As for DeMint's comments, Cole said, "I have a lot of
respect for Jim DeMint. But criticism has to be coupled with
something that is political possible to be useful," Cole said.
The internal Republican disputes are a sign of frustration
that Obama and his Democrats appear to have the upper hand, said
Greg Valliere of the Potomac Research Group, which tracks
Washington politics for institutional investors. All Obama needs
to do is wait and taxes will rise, although that risks damaging
"Republicans realize they will get much of the blame if we
go over the cliff. And as they game out the ultimate outcome -
which inevitably will include major compromises - they are
acting more frustrated in public," Valliere said.
Two of the most conservative House members also lashed out
at Boehner's leadership after he led an effort to remove them
from plum assignments on the House Budget Committee.
Representatives Tim Huelskamp of Kansas and Justin Amash of
Michigan - both Tea Party favorites - said they were purged from
the panel because they defied leadership too often to defend
their conservative principles. Two other Republicans also lost
assignments on other committees.
Both Amash and Huelskamp voted against last year's deal to
raise the debt limit and cast the only Republican votes in the
House Budget Committee against the budget plan this year
authored by panel chairman Paul Ryan.
Huelskamp called his ouster "petty" and "vindictive."
"What this says is that dissent will not be tolerated,
particularly conservative dissent," he told an audience at the
conservative Heritage Foundation think tank.
He added that Boehner wanted to silence opposition to a deal
that would raise taxes.
"I think this makes it very clear to conservatives that
you're about to get run over. Sit down and just lump it," he
A senior House Republican aide said Boehner was not upset by
pot shots from some within the party's ranks.
"DeMint is a member of the far right," the senior aide said.
"You would prefer that he bite his lip and not offer his
criticism. But I don't think it is going to have any impact on
Boehner anticipates that dozens in his party will vote
against any deal, but still believes he can win a majority --
perhaps two-thirds -- of House Republicans, the aide said.