That had to hurt. House Speaker John Boehner was trying to show some muscle in his negotiations with President Obama on a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff, which threatens to inflict financial pain on virtually every American household in the new year. Then late Thursday, despite a frantic attempt to twist the arms of his fellow Republicans, Boehner had to cancel a vote on his proposal, known as Plan B, to extend Bush-era tax breaks to everyone making less than $1 million a year, because he couldn't get enough votes from his own party to pass it.
It was all for show — Plan B wouldn't have passed the Democrat-controlled Senate, and Obama, who wants to let taxes go up for households making more than $400,000, had vowed to veto it, anyway. But instead of showing Boehner's strength, say Jake Sherman, Carrie Budoff Brown, and John Bresnahan at Politico, the move "morphed into an exercise in exposing the limits of his power in the House."
The debacle leaves him with greatly diminished leverage in the ongoing fiscal-cliff negotiations with Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and it vaults Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to the forefront of the tax-and-spending debate... Congress will now return from the Christmas holiday with a gloomy reality for the GOP: It is going to be presented with a Democrat-authored bill as the nation stands just days from the fiscal cliff.
"The White House may chortle that the GOP is in disarray, and it is," says The Wall Street Journal in an editorial, "but this failure to govern also owes much to President Obama's failure to negotiate with any degree of seriousness." Boehner first offered to raise $800 billion in new revenue through tax reform as part of a balanced deficit-reduction plan. Obama said no. Then Boehner "finally cracked on raising rates," and offered to let taxes rise for those making more than $1 million. Obama still said no — and he refused to offer specific entitlement reform, while insisting that Republicans let the debt limit be lifted permanently. Plan B was Boehner's "last resort" to push for compromise.
With a narrow deal on taxes, Mr. Boehner figured he could live to fight another day on spending. But it is a measure of the mistrust the president has engendered that many Republicans didn't want to give up even this much on taxes in return for nothing at all.
The best scenario for the economy now would be for Mr. Obama to offer to extend all the tax rates for six months and start negotiating anew in January. That would give everyone the chance to decompress and back down from the barricades.
The path to a deal is "now far less clear," says John Avlon at The Daily Beast. So we all get to go into the holiday facing the increased likelihood that $600 billion in automatic tax hikes and spending cuts will kick in, possibly dragging the economy into another recession. "Merry Cliffmas." At least now the entire nation can see that it's the anti-tax conservatives who are refusing to negotiate.
In the short run, the 25-plus conservative congressmen who refused to support Boehner's Plan B gambit have only weakened their party's hand in the fiscal-cliff negotiations and made it less likely that their priorities will be reflected in any final package. These are people who would rather ruin if they cannot rule... That means that any deal will be passed without the support of the far-right or far-left, just as the ultimate debt-ceiling deal in the summer of 2011 did. The extremes do not increase their leverage in this scenario, but they could compel the center in both parties to find a way to work together to keep the country from going off the cliff.
Boehner has a conservative revolt on his hands, says Ezra Klein at The Washington Post. A significant number of his fellow Republicans in the House "clearly don't trust his strategic instincts, they don't feel personally bound to support him, they clearly disagree with his belief that tax rates must rise as part of a deal, and they, along with many other Republicans, must be humiliated after the shenanigans on the House floor" on Thursday. When Republicans vote on who'll be the Speaker of the House in the new Congress on Jan. 3, Boehner might lose his job. Between now and then, though, he can still play a role in sparing the nation from a dive off the cliff.
Plan A, which was a deal with Obama, was put on ice, many believe, because Boehner couldn't wrangle the votes to pass anything Obama would sign. Plan B failed because Boehner couldn't wrangle the Republican votes to pass something Obama had sworn he wouldn't sign.
The failure of Plan B proved something important: Boehner doesn't have enough Republican support to pass any bill that increases taxes — even one meant to block a larger tax increase — without a significant number of Democrats. The House has now adjourned until after Christmas, but it's clear now what Plan C is going to have to be: Boehner is going to need to accept the simple reality that if he's to be a successful speaker, he's going to need to begin passing legislation with Democratic votes.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How a degree from Duke University dashed my dreams of buying a home
- This is why you can't trust the NSA. Ever.
- Innocent before proven guilty? The bizarre bipartisan rush to clear Rick Perry
- Half the world's population lives in these 6 countries
- Why you should stop believing in evolution
- Today in history: Lincoln reveals the real goal of the Civil War
- 10 things you need to know today: August 22, 2014
- ISIS and the echoes of the West's religious terror
- Don't listen to Paul Ryan: The GOP is still the party of makers and takers
- How Israel's hawks intimidated and silenced the last remnants of the anti-war left
Subscribe to the Week