Last night, the House of Representatives declined to take up Speaker John Boehner’s “Plan B”—a measure that would have simply extended the Bush tax cuts on everyone who earns under $1 million annually, and put off the rest of the fiscal cliff issues off until a later date.
Up until, Boehner had been negotiating a deal with Obama, and doing a pretty decent job, from his point of view. He got Obama off the $250,000 benchmark for extending the Bush tax cuts, and up to $400,000. He got Obama to scrap his demand for a permanent debt-ceiling fix. He got Obama to propose a Social Security benefit cut, which has enraged progressives.
But in a replay of 2011’s debt ceiling negotiations, it became clear to Boehner he probably didn’t have enough votes to pass this “grand bargain” with a majority of his caucus behind him. So on Monday evening, Boehner phoned President Obama and said the House would take up the bare-minimum “Plan B”—which was meant to be a mattress on the ground for Republicans if no deal could be reached by January 1. They could say they still protected the tax cuts for most Americans, with a small concession to Obama’s position by not protecting them for people earning over $1 million.
House Republicans, however, proved unwilling to make even this tiny concession. While Grover Norquist endorsed it, many others—the Club for Growth, Redstate.com, the Heritage Action Fund—actively pushed for “no” votes because it still raised taxes. And in a contentious, closed-door meeting last night, Boehner’s members made it clear to him that he didn’t have enough votes to pass it. So he didn’t even put it up for a vote. (During the meeting one Boehner ally stood and asked recalcitrant conservatives “how the hell can you do this?”)
This was already probably obvious, but after last night we now know it’s true: no deal can pass the House without significant Democratic support. The House Republicans will not agree en masse to anything remotely acceptable to the Senate and White House. The GOP line today, dutifully repeated as always by Politico’s Playbook, is that “Senator Reid and President Obama now have what they sought to avoid: responsibility for putting forward a plan of their own that can pass.” Ignore that—it just means that Democrats should put together a plan that the House GOP will accept, which is simply not going to happen. Obama will not cave to the Republican demand of no tax rate increases whatsoever.