President Obama, Democrats and their positions were rewarded by voters November 6 over Mitt Romney, Republicans and their positions. House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Congressman from a reliably Republican district adjacent to Cincinnati, has spent weeks blustering with the White House in negotiations between his Majority Caucus, the White House and a Democratic-controlled Senate, which has already passed a bill the president would sign but House Tea Party movement Republicans say they cannot agree with.
No confidence for Boehner
Reports Thursday night, about a dozen days before the new year starts and automatic spending cuts and tax increases kick in, is that Speaker Boehner failed to muster the votes to pass a controversial fiscal cliff fallback bill he tried to push through the House Thursday night. The news is bad for Boehner because it shows he's not a deal maker President Obama can rely upon.
By pulling his own bill, it shows he doesn't have the confidence of his own caucus, which demonstrates the Merlot-loving speaker is weaker than previously thought. Pulling the bill suddenly, as he did, bodes poorly for his ability to outmaneuver the White House or Congressional Democrats with about a dozen days until fiscal-cliff triggers cannot be stopped.
"The House did not take up the tax measure today because it did not have sufficient support from our members to pass," Boehner said in a statement. "Now it is up to the president to work with Senator Reid on legislation to avert the fiscal cliff. The House has already passed legislation to stop all of the January 1 tax rate increases and replace the sequester with responsible spending cuts that will begin to address our nation's crippling debt. The Senate must now act."
Pulling the bill as he did, shows Speaker Boehner, who rose to power in 2011, has a fractured caucus to deal with, and he appears unable to whip them into backing what he's proposing to avert the so-called fiscal cliff, the combination of spending cuts and tax increases that are too austere for most Washingtonians, but if not stopped will automatically take effect on the first day of the new year.
Confirming that had he been able to successfully pass his Plan B bill, the Senate would have turned a deaf ear to the House's action, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, announced earlier Thursday that the Senate will recess Friday until two days after Christmas.
This scheduling change only puts more pressure on the House speaker to convince President Obama and Congressional Democrats to agree with him. But Mr. Boehner has been told again and again that what he's proposing will not be agreed to, but he nonetheless pretends to think he has more leverage than the White House of Senate Democrats. As the days tick down to the New Year, Speaker Boehner may become a man with no confidence, his flock having walked away from him.
Mr. Boehner wanted to keep all the tax cuts for those earning less than $1 million a year, which reports noted was similar to what Democrats had backed two years ago, when they were unable to get the GOP to budge at all on taxes, but are no longer willing to agree to, following the president's big win over Mitt Romney in early November.
Democrats said they opposed Mr. Boehner's plan because it did not include many provisions that were included in their version. Boehner’s plan, they said, would end some tax cuts for the middle class, estimated to be worth, on average, about $1,000 a year. The bill instead preserved some tax breaks for millionaires worth approximately $50,000, which isn't what Democrats campaigned and won on. They campaigned on asking earners of more than $250,000 to pay a few percentage points more, that would bring them back up to top rate of 39.6 percent during the Clinton years.
The speaker wasn't shut out altogether, as the House did pass a bill to cut spending by $200 billion, but mostly with big cuts to domestic programs, including favorite GOP targets such as health care and food stamps, which Democrats, with the backing of a majority of America's voters, said they won't let happen.
Dems wait and watch
"The reason we're here is because our Republican colleagues refuse to compromise," Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said, according to the Huffington Post. "We are wasting the people's time."
Going off the fiscal cliff may be the end of the world for Mr. Boehner, because polls show he and his party will largely take the blame for allowing it to happen because they were too obstinate to compromise as voters want them to do, but it won't be the end of the world for President Obama and Congressional Democrats, who will have even more leverage with the new congress that will be sworn-in, which includes fewer House Republicans and more Senate Democrats.
Washington watchers say the new year brings new dynamics in this tussle. When tax rates default back to the Clinton era, the debate will no longer be about raising taxes, but about lowering them. Then, Mr. Boehner and his GOP caucus will have fewer options to stop the Democrats from passing their middle class tax break. Coming to agreement on taxes then is a lighter lift that should be accomplished quickly.
Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) put it this way: "If we go over the fiscal cliff, the president just comes back and says, 'Ok, we're going to give tax cuts to everybody under 250,000.' Who's going to vote against that? Everybody'll vote for that. Everybody," he told the HuffingtonPost. "It will be just a fait accompli. You won't be voting on whether you're going to do away with a tax cut, you're going to be reimposing tax cuts for everybody under 250,000. So the Republicans are in an untenable situation."
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