How Boehner’s ‘Plan B’ Debacle Has Transformed The Fiscal Cliff Talks

On Thursday night, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) tried and failed to pass his so-called Plan B to avert the looming fiscal cliff. The measure permanently extended a host of tax breaks, including the Bush tax cuts on income up to $1 million, the current estate and gift tax and parity for capital gains and dividend taxes. Boehner paired the bill with a spending reduction proposal in hopes of winning greater support from his caucus.

He gave Republicans almost everything they wanted, but ultimately, this effort to strengthen his position in the ongoing negotiations with the White House failed. Unable to secure the 217 votes needed for passage, Boehner pulled the bill, throwing his speakership into question and leaving the party in disarray.

At the very least, the Plan B debacle has shifted the leverage in the ongoing negotiations from the House Republicans to Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), as any package would have to win significant Democratic support in order to pass. Here are three lessons from Thursday’s failure:

1) Boehner can’t find 217 votes to raise taxes on the richest Americans — even when the increase is paired with spending cuts to domestic programs. Taxes would have gone up on the very wealthiest families, while a companion measure averted the military and domestic spending cuts set to take place in 2013 and replaced them with a host of reductions to food stamps, Medicaid, Obamacare, and other Republican priorities.

2) Grover Norquist now supports raising tax rates. Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform announced on Wednesday that “Plan B” would not violate the ironclad oath nearly all Congressional Republicans have taken to never vote to raise taxes. In so doing, the group effectively conceded that President Obama’s proposed extension of tax cuts for the first $250,000 of income would also not violate the Norquist pledge.

3) The Republican caucus is out of step with Americans — and its voters. Sixty-eight percent believe the President has a mandate to cut taxes for working families; while 76 percent think that increasing taxes on the wealthy is an “acceptable” part of any deal. In fact, almost half of Republicans say the President has a mandate to raise taxes on the rich.

Boehner expressed frustration with his caucus during a press conference on Friday, comparing the intransigent members to lifeguards who refuse to save drowning swimmers.


“[I]f I can go in there and save 99 people that are drowning, that is what I should do as a lifeguard,” he explained. “But the perception was out there and a lot of our members did not want to deal with it.”