The sinking of "Plan B"; the U.S. "fiscal cliff" disaster of John Boehner

Sat Dec 22, 2012 1:05am EST
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By Thomas Ferraro and Richard Cowan and Rachelle Younglai

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Had there been a vote on Republican House Speaker John Boehner's "Plan B" to avert the so-called U.S. fiscal cliff on Thursday night, it would not have been close. He was probably 40 to 50 votes short of the number he needed to avoid a humiliating defeat at the hands of his own party, according to rough estimates from Republican members of Congress and staff members.

It was not for lack of effort. Boehner and his two top deputies, Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy, along with other House Republican leaders, tried for three days to muster support for the measure, which would have cut government spending and raised taxes on millionaires to head off across-the-board tax hikes and spending cuts set for January.

They failed for a variety of reasons, according to interviews. But chief among them was this: They were asking anti-tax conservatives to take a big risk for no discernable reward. Plan B, as Boehner named his alternative to President Barack Obama's proposal to raise taxes on earnings of $400,000 a year and above, would never become law because the Democratic-controlled Senate would not pass it. Nor was it likely to put pressure on Obama to reach a deal, as Boehner intended.

Indeed, based on interviews with Republican members of Congress and some of their staffers, the wonder is not that Plan B crashed and burned, but that Boehner apparently thought - and announced in advance - that it would fly.

For Republican members of Congress like John Fleming, it was kind of mystifying.

Fleming, of Louisiana, said he was getting emails from people who raise money for campaigns saying, "'If you support tax increases without significant cuts ... don't even bother to call me.' The conservatives and donor class have laid the gauntlet down. They get that their taxes may go up, but they don't think that there is any reason to make that kind of sacrifice as government spending goes up."

With Senate Democrats and Obama making clear that they would not go along with Boehner's Plan B, said Fleming: "Why would we put ourselves on record" in favor of "raising taxes for a bill that's not going to become law?"

A staff member to a Republican congressman expressed the sentiments of some members more colorfully.   Continued...

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) (R) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) speak to the media on the "fiscal cliff" on Capitol Hill in Washington, December 21, 2012. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas