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Lacking Support, Boehner Cancels "Plan B" Vote

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - December 21, 2012

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Passage of Plan B, which includes patches for the alternative minimum tax and the estate tax, would have sent a message to constituents and the wary markets that the House GOP voted to shield 99 percent of Americans from higher tax rates. It also would have provided the Republicans’ chief negotiator with evidence that he can wrangle his caucus to support a more comprehensive deal with the president.

“It’s hard for the speaker to negotiate if he doesn’t have 218 votes for whatever it is he is trying to sell; it’s that simple,” said Rep. Charlie Dent, a Republican from Pennsylvania. (The House currently has one vacancy--Jesse Jackson Jr.--so 217 votes are needed to pass.) 

Cole said the sequester replacement had made a difference in persuading some members to support Boehner’s tax plan, as did anti-tax leader Grover Norquist’s blessing of the measure, which gave needed political cover to members worried about breaking their pledge to not raise taxes. Messaging from leadership this week had centered on the idea that the House would have done its job if it passed this alternative to a “grand bargain.”

But the sentiments of Republicans opposed to Plan B held more sway. “We have already voted to extend current tax rates on every job creator in this country, and Plan B doesn’t do that,” said Rep. Paul Broun. The Georgia Republican said he did not know how this kind of measure could help party members. “I think the president is playing politics with this whole issue.”

Republican Rep. Tim Huelskamp, who was recently kicked off a committee for bucking leadership on votes, called Thursday’s failure a victory for conservative principles. "Republicans should not be forced to vote for a 'show' bill that asks us to compromise on our principles," the Kansas lawmaker said in a statement.

After the conference meeting, Florida Rep. Allen West, who lost his November re-election bid, told RCP he had explained his “principled and pragmatic” opposition to Plan B to the leadership team. “They always really need a vote, but . . . I explained it to them, they got it. They can’t fault me for it. I’ve been there for them previous times. And I couldn’t this time.” West said Republicans are already on record for voting to extend current rates for everyone, and the president has to accept responsibility for spending and the current economy.

Others, like retiring Ohio Republican Rep. Steve LaTourrette, expressed sadness for the speaker and the country after the failure of Plan B. Earlier in the day, he said the bill’s passage would give comfort to Americans and to the financial markets, and asserted that a certain reality must be acknowledged: “There’s no leverage here, which is why . . . a deal between the president, or some comprehensive plan, would be better.”

Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake, who will join the Senate in a few weeks, said he also supported the plan, and didn’t understand why his defecting colleagues’ reasoning. “I think we would have been in the strongest position,” he said after the conference meeting. “We ought to rejoice and make as many [tax cuts] as permanent as we can. Then, the onus is on the president to find [spending] cuts. . . . As long as we are perceived as the party of the 2 percent, we can’t get anywhere.”

Democrats accused Boehner of wasting time under a tight deadline, and his decision to leave the negotiating table and introduce the alternative measure “undercuts trust and it essentially rigidifies the Republicans,” Michigan Rep. Sandy Levin told RCP. The ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee added, “I think they’ve moved us closer to the cliff and they are going to have to go back and reassess.”

The White House called the Boehner’s effort “an exercise in futility.” Spokesman Jay Carney said he could not “divine the motivations” behind Boehner’s strategy. Earlier this week, Obama made concessions in his previous proposal, offering Boehner $1.2 trillion in additional revenue by raising taxes on earned income over $400,000 and proposing $930 billion in spending cuts.

Boehner rejected that package, calling it unbalanced. Characterizing the negotiations as stalled, he introduced the backup plan to push the White House his way. The pair have not spoken since Monday and Obama has not altered his position. He told reporters Wednesday he was puzzled Republicans had not taken the latest deal he offered: “If you look at Speaker Boehner's proposal and you look at my proposal, they're actually pretty close. What’s holding it up?”

The answer, as Boehner knew, was the GOP conference. 

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Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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