At this morning's meeting of the House Republican conference, John Boehner described the contours of the plan he keeps hashing out with the White House. He also described a "Plan B," something that House Republicans could vote on quickly -- a bill that would raise the top tax rate again, but only on income over $1 million. That's far north of what the president campaigned on ($250,000), and what is reportedly in the talks ($400,000), but it's got two advantages -- pure PR advantages.
1) Republicans can say that the Senate Democrats already voted "aye" on this "plan," because in a 2010 vote they -- posturingly -- hiked the top rate on income over $1 million. They got some help with this spin when it immediately jumped to the top of the Drudge Report.
2) Republicans who vote for this can prove to the universe that they're being reasonable, which might strengthen their hands, or something like that.
So, the members leaving the meeting were alternately quiet and skeptical. Few of them ruled out the plan. "I'm not sure I'm there yet," said Rep. Dave Schweikert, a freshman from Arizona who's been fighting with leadership over committee assignments. "It's hard, when our mantra is about spending, and if you look at the reality of the math, it's entitlements. So we need to tell the truth."
But Schweikert's colleague Jeff Flake, who's heading to the Senate next month, was sunnier. He described the plan as one that would "protect additional taxpayers from a tax increase," while "the rest can be dealt with later." Rep. James Lankford, a freshman from a super-safe Oklahoma seat, suggested (truthfully!) that "at this point, rates are going up for everybody."
Again, though -- this is mostly PR. The actual, leaked "bargain," the shifting deal that my colleague Matthew Yglesias has been covering, remains mysterious, with some elements like Social Security cuts giving Republicans more than they'd get from a short-term deal. There's nothing stopping them from forcing another fight on entitlements if they punt and look "reasonable" now. They haven't seen the bargain on paper. They don't know if they're getting the best deal from it.
"It was more trying to get our heads around what was being discussed, what's real and what isn't," Schweikert said. "I've learned in my short time here that I think I know one thing, then, when I read the details, I go: Ohhhhhhh!"