As of now, Hastert has a numbers problem. CNN reports that eight to 10 GOPers are still in the "hell no" category when it comes to the big tax cut — plenty enough to sink the bill when the 211 Democrats and one independent are a sure thing to stick together. Mostly moderates, led by Michael Castle of Delaware, the GOP rebels have a $514 billion cut in mind –- more in line with what’s moving through the Senate these days (with bipartisan support), and a lot closer to what Bill Clinton might actually consider signing. But House GOP bigwigs like tax hawk Bill Archer, whip extraordinaire Tom DeLay and Hastert aren’t looking to make legislation; they’re looking for a showdown with the White House that will make 2000 a referendum on tax cuts. Judging by the polls, that would be a sizable gamble in itself. But now they’re stuck in a staring match with their own members — definitely a no-win situation.
The Republicans are betting the House on this one. GOP leaders pushed their $792 billion tax cut toward the House floor Thursday for a midafternoon vote, despite the fact that a veto by President Clinton is assured — and despite the fact that the measure’s biggest problem right now is Republicans themselves. Speaker Denny Hastert is cracking the party whip as hard as he can — and he’s not afraid to beg, either, telling members that the GOP’s slender majority (not to mention his own job) is riding on this vote. And he’s breaking the first rule of congressional politics: He doesn’t even know how it’s going to turn out. "This is becoming yet another opportunity for Republicans to embarrass themselves," says TIME White House correspondent Jay Branegan. "Tax cuts are their last signature issue. If they can’t even bring their own party along, how can they lead Congress?"