Hot off the presses from the main site, figure it’s worth posting here too. It’s been a wild night in the Capitol:
By Daniel Malloy
House Speaker John Boehner’s “fiscal cliff” backup plan fell apart Thursday night, and the U.S. House adjourned for Christmas, as his restive Republican caucus balked at a bill that would let taxes rise on income over $1 million.
Boehner intended to use the measure to pressure Democrats, who opposed it, to come up with a better deal. But in the end his forceful, personal appeals for the bill were not enough to bring 217 votes for passage.
Boehner has been personally negotiating with President Barack Obama on a larger deal to raise taxes, cut spending and reform entitlement programs — but he pursued the Republican-only “Plan B” as a fallback.
The gambit failed.
Now the House is not set to return before Dec. 27, and Boehner in a statement said the onus is on Obama to work with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on a plan to avoid the tax hikes and spending cuts scheduled for the new year.
Obama and Boehner have been engaged in one-on-one negotiations but remain apart on the parameters of a so-called grand bargain — the politics of which are complicated further by Boehner’s inability to muster the votes for his tax measure.
“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,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said after the House adjourned. “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.”
Boehner’s “Plan B” bill was designed as a fallback against the expiration of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, to ensure that marginal tax rates — as well as the estate tax and alternative minimum tax — would remain unchanged for the vast majority of taxpayers. But the White House and the Democrat-controlled Senate vowed to block the bill, saying it did not raise enough revenue and did not do enough for the middle class. (The Senate passed a bill in the fall to extend marginal tax rates for incomes of $250,000 or less.)
Raising taxes at all goes sharply against Republican orthodoxy, and Boehner canceled the night’s scheduled vote once he realized more than two dozen of his members would refuse to allow any rates to rise.
Two conservative Georgians who announced their opposition in advance were U.S. Reps. Lynn Westmoreland of Coweta County and Paul Broun of Athens. Thursday afternoon, Broun declared, “I’m not raising taxes on anybody,” and insisted that a cuts-only approach is the only way to tame the nation’s deficits.
Other members of the delegation said the vote was the best of a bad situation. Still more played their cards close to the vest. U.S. Rep. Tom Price of Roswell declared himself undecided two hours before the scheduled vote time.
U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, a Savannah Republican, said Boehner told the caucus at a hastily called meeting Thursday night: “Right now we’re at an impasse, and we’re going to go home.”
“Every now and then you just have to regroup, and I’ve seen lots of tough votes before,” Kingston added as he left the meeting. “It’s a birthing process, if you will, with lots of labor pains, so that’s where we are.”
U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, a Lawrenceville Republican, had been speaking in favor of the bill on the House floor. After the collapse he said of Boehner: “He has unilaterally pushed this conference as far as he can and now he’s got to have some teamwork from the other side.”
Any final deal likely will require House Democratic votes, but they did not offer any support for Boehner’s Plan B.
Rep. David Scott, an Atlanta Democrat, called the bill a “desperate move” by Boehner and said he opposed it because it did not raise enough tax revenue and, by allowing payroll taxes to rise, constituted a middle-class tax hike.
“It not only pushes us away from a deal, it raises anxiety among the American people,” Scott said.
Boehner — who had proclaimed earlier in the day he would have the votes — issued a terse statement after the conference meeting, noting the House over the summer passed a bill to extend all tax rates and twice, including Thursday night, voted for a bill to replace the across-the-board spending cuts with targeted slices to domestic programs such as food stamps and children’s health insurance. Democrats have dismissed both plans.
“The Senate must now act,” Boehner said.
Boehner took the rare step of personally whipping colleagues on the floor. On Wednesday evening, he sat behind Broun, Kingston and Phil Gingrey of Marietta and aggressively tried to cajole them into voting for the deal.
He appeared to have won over Gingrey by Thursday afternoon, when Gingrey said he was leaning toward voting yes.
“I’m not voting for a tax increase,” Gingrey said. “That’s current law. That’s going to happen anyway, and if we don’t do anything taxes are going up on everybody.”
Whether or not the vote was a tax hike was in dispute. Americans for Tax Reform — run by high-profile activist Grover Norquist — gave its approval to the bill as a non-tax increase. By contrast, the influential conservative groups FreedomWorks, Club For Growth and Heritage Action for America urged members to vote against it.