Will Republicans Scuttle the Tax Cut Deal?

While everyone's wondering whether Democrats will get behind President Obama's deal to extend the Bush-era tax cuts, here's another question worth pondering: Will Republicans support it?

It's not clear yet how firmly House Republicans back the deal hammered out by their party leaders, and, if President Obama is to pass this deal with a coalition of Republicans and only some Democrats, he'll need a strong whip count from the GOP, depending on how shaky Democratic support turns out to be.

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who leads the House Tea Party Caucus, said on Monday she's not sure whether or not Republicans will back it.

"I don't know that Republicans would necessarily go along with that vote. That would be a very hard vote to take," Bachmann said on Sean Hannity's radio show.

It's unclear, right now, just how many Republicans feel as Bachmann does.

"Predominantly the conference is supportive," a GOP aide said. "There are strong concerns about the unpaid-for extension of unemployment insurance...[but the] most important thing that Republicans are focused on is making sure no one has a tax increase on January 1."

A Democratic aide was less certain. "Has Boehner given the president a whip count?" the aide asked.

GOP support could be at about 90 percent--or it could be less. A hard count is tough to come by.

Another consideration: Would Republicans decide it's worth it, politically, to sink the deal in an attempt to make President Obama look bad (he's gone out on quite a limb, calling two press conferences and subsequently being greeted with resistance by members of his own party), then come back next year with stronger numbers in Congress and try to get a better deal?

Who knows? But, at this point, the logic for such a move seems tenuous.

In doing so, here's what Republicans would gain: Obama appearing weak and ineffective, the Democratic Party appearing in broader disarray, and a chance to extend the tax cuts without extending unemployment insurance or obtain some otherwise better deal with the leverage of House majority and better numbers in the Senate.

Here's what they would risk: appearing responsible for higher taxes next year after Obama offered them a deal to extend the Bush-era rates, coming off as grinches for failing to extend unemployment insurance during the holiday season, and the possibility that next year Obama and Democrats will actually hold more leverage in this debate.

Once the Bush tax cuts expire, the deadline is removed and the political calculus, in some sense, changes. It's possible that, if this deal fails, Obama tells GOP leaders, "Guess what? That deal I gave you just got worse." The House could pass a better deal, but it would never make it through the Senate, and, if it did, Obama would veto. The Democratic difficulty of not being able to pass legislation through the Senate, then, would become the Republicans' problem.

Until Republicans start saying they have the firm support, it's hard to know what will happen. It's entirely possible they don't have enough votes to build a winning coalition with Democrats, even as Minority Whip Eric Cantor's office, it's safe to say, is whipping this deal in search of GOP votes. Out of pure, semi-based speculation, it looks like the possibility of a better deal next year seems kind of weak.