WASHINGTON – House Speaker John A. Boehner on Thursday night abruptly pulled his supposed solution to the “fiscal cliff” from the House floor, unable to muster enough votes from his fellow Republicans to ensure its passage.
The failure of Boehner’s “Plan B” option pushed the nation perilously closer to a Jan. 1 abyss where taxes would go up for 90 percent of Americans while a series of draconian federal budget cuts would automatically take effect.
The decision by Boehner, R-Ohio, came after a closed-door meeting of House Republicans to count noses, only to find himself falling short of the votes needed to pass a narrow measure that increased taxes only on incomes of more than $1 million a year.
The bill “did not have sufficient support from our members to pass,” Boehner said. “Now it is up to the president to work with [Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.] on legislation to avert the fiscal cliff.”
Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., tweeted: “The House of Representatives has concluded legislative business for the week. The House will return after the Christmas holiday when needed.”
Boehner’s surrender marked a victory for hard-line elements in the House Republican Conference, who vow to oppose any tax increases, despite polling data that shows the American public favoring higher taxes on the wealthy and a newly re-elected Democratic president who wants to raise rates on those making more than $400,000.
It marked the beginning of a dangerous march toward the new year for the nation’s citizens, who could see smaller paychecks because of a stalemate over how to deal with the nation’s long-term debt. Economists such as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke have warned that the fiscal cliff’s double-whammy of tax increases and spending cuts would likely push the nation into recession.
Boehner’s shocking surrender followed a day of partisan bickering, as the speaker’s GOP allies argued for his plan while Democrats said it was a cosmetic measure that did nothing to bring the two sides toward compromise.
In the end, what mattered was not what the Republican leadership or its Democratic adversaries had to say, but what a group of hard-line, tea party-aligned GOP lawmakers thought of Boehner’s proposal.
“Tonight is a victory for conservative principles,” Rep. Tim Heulskamp, R-Kan., told NBC’s Luke Russert.
The conservatives who stopped Boehner’s plan dead in its tracks did so even though anti-tax activist Grover Norquist had signed off on the deal. Norquist is the author of an anti-tax pledge that almost every GOP member of Congress had signed.
More important, it seemed, was a letter to members of Congress from the staunchly conservative Club for Growth.
“Speaker Boehner, President Obama, [House Minority Leader] Nancy Pelosi and too many members of the Republican conference have forgotten that the problem in Washington is too much spending and not too little taxation,” the letter said.
Fighting that argument, Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, spent much of the day lobbying for Boehner’s plan, only to find himself frustrated in the end. “We had a Plan A, and that didn’t work. We had a Plan B, and that didn’t work. Obviously, I am less optimistic as the days go by,” said Reed, a member of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.
Reed echoed Boehner’s suggestion that it’s now up to the Senate and the president to come up with a compromise that Congress can pass.
White House press secretary Jay Carney hinted that may be a possibility. “The president’s main priority is to ensure that taxes don’t go up on 98 percent of Americans and 97 percent of small businesses in just a few short days,” Carney said after the collapse of Plan B. “The president will work with Congress to get this done, and we are hopeful that we will be able to find a bipartisan solution quickly that protects the middle class and our economy.”
Earlier, Boehner agreed that a negotiated solution would be best. “Our country faces serious challenges,” he said at a midday news conference. “The president and I in our respective roles have a responsibility to work together to get them resolved. I expect that we’ll continue to work together.”
So far, though, that work hasn’t gone so well, he said. “For weeks the White House said if I moved on [tax] rates, that they would make substantial concessions on spending cuts and entitlement reform,” he said. “I did my part. They’ve done nothing.”
Thursday’s partisan bickering came 12 days before the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts, a temporary payroll tax deduction and other key tax breaks. In addition, a series of deep spending cuts that both parties would prefer to avoid are also set to take effect Jan. 1 unless Congress figures out a way to replace them.
The two sides remain far apart. Obama wants to raise the top tax rate from 35 percent to 39.6 percent for income over $400,000, but Boehner wants the rate to increase in that way only for income of more than $1 million, and he could not even get his party to agree to that. The president has also proposed about $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over a decade, including about $400 billion from Medicare and Medicaid. Boehner has proposed a similar level of spending cuts but has sought $600 billion of it from those health programs for seniors and the poor.
Democrats dismissed Boehner’s proposal as a negotiating ploy. “It’s nothing more than theater,” said Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, before Boehner’s plan collapsed. “John Boehner needs to be a leader and negotiate. Instead he’s trying to weasel his way out of a corner he put himself into.”
The fiscal cliff stems from the summer 2011 agreement between Obama and Republicans on raising the nation’s debt ceiling, which set a Dec. 31, 2012, deadline by which Congress had to pass a long-term solution to the nation’s deficit problem in order to avoid painful cuts to defense and social programs.
Plan B would have preserved the current tax rates for most Americans while shielding the middle class from the alternative minimum tax.
While Higgins opposed Plan B, he said its collapse “does not speak well to us reaching an agreement by Jan. 1.” The House GOP caucus “seems to be imploding,” he added.
Republicans allied with Boehner portrayed Plan B as a good deal for most taxpayers, but Democrats said it was just one more sign of Washington’s dysfunction. “I completely understand why voters are frustrated with us,” Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul, D-Hamburg, said before Boehner’s plan collapsed.
News wire services contributed to this report. email: email@example.com