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Lacking Support, Boehner Cancels "Plan B" Vote

Lacking Support, Boehner Cancels "Plan B" Vote

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - December 21, 2012

After a day of futile arm-twisting, an expected House vote on Speaker John Boehner’s backup plan to avert the fiscal cliff was called off Thursday night. The Republican leader was unable to drum up enough support to pass the measure, which calls for extending current tax rates on income under $1 million.

Boehner and his leadership team said earlier in the day that they would have the requisite support. But at nearly 8 p.m., when members had been expected to cast their votes, the speaker called his conference to a meeting, leading them in the Pledge of Allegiance and then in the Serenity Prayer, according to lawmakers present. The words to the latter -- “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference” -- were telling.

Boehner then said he did not have the votes for passage, and dismissed them for the Christmas holiday. “Now it is up to the president to work with Senator Reid on legislation to avert the fiscal cliff,” he said in a statement. “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.”

The White House struck a hopeful tone in response to Thursday evening’s events, perhaps in an effort to calm fretful financial markets. Spokesman Jay Carney did not mention Boehner or the Republicans, but said simply, “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. 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.”

The developments were a significant defeat for Boehner, and questions now loom on Capitol Hill as to who will lead the negotiations from here. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a strategist at heart who has remained in the background to this point, might step onto the stage. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi had led a petition to get a floor vote on a measure to raise taxes on those making over $250,000 a year. Democrat Chris Van Hollen, the ranking member of the Budget Committee, suggested bringing the president's proposal to the floor for a vote. But it is unclear whether Boehner, whose speakership election takes place Jan. 3, would allow a vote on any measure that would win approval from a majority of Democrats and some Republicans.

Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, who helped GOP leaders try to generate support for Boehner’s so-called Plan B, told RCP earlier on Thursday that if the measure failed, Republicans would have lost their chance to make a deal with Democrats that would be good for their party. “Those who vote no are basically allies of Nancy Pelosi,” he said.

Though Senate passage of the bill was highly unlikely -- and President Obama had promised to veto it anyway -- pulling it from the floor leaves cliff negotiations up in the air with just 10 days till across-the-board tax hikes and spending cuts kick in.

Passage required support from 217 lawmakers, and the GOP leadership team went into the evening still trying to coax tax-averse conference members to back the measure, which would raise rates to nearly 40 percent on the wealthiest Americans. To help sweeten the deal, Republicans had reprised a spending bill that would replace over $300 billion in automatic defense cuts with savings in discretionary programs.

That piece narrowly passed on Thursday, but the vote foreshadowed the difficulty to come later in the evening: 21 Republicans opposed it.

Senate Democrats had pledged to ignore both bills, which made it even more difficult for some Republicans to put their fingerprints on legislation to increase rates, even if only on relatively few people. But Boehner’s difficulty in getting conference members to support his measure underscores the weak position he holds in trying to strike an agreement with a newly re-elected Democratic president.

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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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