Short of votes, House Republicans pulled Speaker John Boehner’s “Plan B” tax bill from the floor late Thursday, testing the Speaker’s hold on his conference and throwing year-end efforts to prevent the fiscal cliff into further chaos.
Party leaders had voiced confidence throughout the day they had enough Republican votes to pass the measure over unified Democratic opposition, but amid mounting defections they announced shortly before 8 p.m. that a vote would be put off.
After a closed-door conference meeting, the Speaker said it was now up to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and President Obama to find a way to avert tax hikes and spending cuts set to be triggered in January that economist want could start a recession. He told The Hill that the House would come back “when needed.”
“The House did not take up the tax measure today because it did not have sufficient support from our members to pass,” Boehner said. “Now it is up to the president to work with Senator Reid on legislation to avert the fiscal cliff.
Senate Democrats had vowed to shelve the bill and President Obama threatened a veto, arguing that Boehner’s push for the legislation was a waste of time that could better have been spent in negotiations.
Boehner’s bill would extend current tax rates on annual income up to $1 million but allow rates to rise for taxpayers earning more.
The Speaker had argued that his fallback plan was the best the House could do in the absence of a broader deficit agreement with the president.
He had suggested earlier Thursday that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was bluffing when he said the Senate would ignore the legislation, but by the evening Republicans were the ones who had overplayed their hand.
Failure to pass the bill would be a major defeat for Boehner and raise pressure on him to make more concessions to Obama in an effort to win Democratic support for legislation to prevent the looming tax hikes and spending cuts.
The drama on Thursday was in many respects a reprise of the debt-ceiling debate in July 2011, when Boehner was forced to pull a Republican proposal off the House floor for lack of votes. In that instance, he added measures to please conservatives and pass the legislation the next day.
This time around, Republican leaders had already made a concession to conservatives by allowing a separate vote on a measure to replace the $109 billion in across-the-board cuts to defense and domestic spending. Boehner’s tax bill contained no spending cuts and did not replace the cuts from sequestration, angering many Republicans.
But when that bill came up for a vote earlier Thursday evening, it passed only by a narrow margin, 215-209, with one Republican voting present. No Democrats voted for the bill.
In the hours leading up to the floor debate, Boehner and Reid exchanged rhetorical jabs from across the Capitol.
After Reid told reporters he would not even bring up Boehner’s bill for a vote, the Speaker suggested he was bluffing. “I am not convinced at all that when the bill passes the House today that it will die in the Senate,” Boehner said at a midday press conference in the Capitol. “At some point the Senate has to act.”
Boehner accused the president of being “unwilling to stand up to his own party” on a balanced deficit reduction package.
“For weeks, the White House said that if I moved on rates, that they would make substantial concessions on spending cuts and entitlement reforms,” Boehner said. “I did my part. They’ve done nothing.”
“I’ve become convinced,” he added, “the president is unwilling to stand up to his own party on the big issues that face our country.”
Among rank-and-file GOP lawmakers, the mood was grim as they prepared to take a difficult vote on legislation unlikely to ever become law.
Asked for his prediction on how the fiscal-cliff standoff would end, retiring Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio) said, “We get our clocks cleaned. That’s how it ends. There’s no leverage here.”
Another retiring member, staunch conservative Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), shared that view, saying Republicans were in a tough spot going up against a re-elected president whose approval ratings are on the rise. In the latest Gallup survey, 56 percent of respondents approved of Obama’s job performance compared to 37 percent who disapproved, matching his highest rating in three years.
To lead the debate on the spending bill, Boehner turned to Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the House budget chief who spoke on the House floor for the first time since his bid to become vice president fell short.
“Look, elections have consequences,” Ryan said. “I, of all people, understand that.”
“What we are trying to do here is limit the damage to the taxpayers. There is not a single tax increase in here,” he added, adopting a line of argument that Republicans had decried just weeks earlier.
- Boehner says Obama’s ‘cliff’ concessions aren’t enough (dailykos.com)
- Sen. Harry Reid: Speaker Boehner’s “Plan B” Can’t Pass Both Houses of Congress (foxnewsinsider.com)
- Dear @SpeakerBoehner, it’s time for Plan C – The Christmas Strategy (legalinsurrection.com)
- ‘Plan B’ stalls in Senate (oddonion.com)
- Prominent Democrats ask if Boehner’s leadership is secure (dailykos.com)