Plan B fails; Republicans move closer to political cliff

Speaker Boehner has pulled his “Plan B” for averting the year-end “fiscal cliff” because, in the words of the Washington Post, “he fail[ed] to persuade conservative Republicans to extend tax cuts for the vast majority of Americans and let tax rates rise for millionaires.” I quote the Post’s characterization because this is how the vote will be portrayed throughout the mainstream media and how it will be perceived by most Americans. In other words, Boehner’s attempt, through Plan B, to improve the Republican House’s image by preventing a tax hike on everyone except millionaires has backfired.

In reality, Plan B arguably failed not because it allowed a tax hike for millionaires but because it allowed that tax hike without Obama having agreed to spending cuts or bringing about savings. But this nuance will be lost on the public if its tax rates go up.

To be sure, a deal could still emerge between Obama and Boehner that hikes taxes for very high earners and cuts spending. That, of course, was Plan A. House Republicans haven’t yet been presented with a Plan A, so we can’t say for sure whether there is a Plan A they would support. Moreover, a Plan A signed off on by Obama would receive considerable support from Democrats, so Boehner wouldn’t need a vast amount of Republican support.

However, some say Boehner came up with Plan B precisely because he doubted the House would pass anything answering to the description of “Plan A,” i.e., a deal on revenue and spending that Obama would agree to. If that’s a correct assessment, then Plan A is a no-hoper, and with the demise of Plan B, the Republicans had better have a viable Plan C. Otherwise, they are very likely to go over a real political cliff when the nation goes over the so-called fiscal one.

My view, however, was that Boehner went to Plan B not because he thought negotiations with Obama had no hope of producing an agreement acceptable to the Republican caucus, but because he thought passing Plan B would increase his leverage in negotiations with the president. But the defeat of Plan B probably decreases his leverage. And with less leverage, Boehner is less likely than before to get Obama to agree to a deal that can pass the House.

Boehner’s only hope is that Obama devotely wishes to avoid the fiscal cliff. If he does, then the unwillingness of House Republicans to adopt Plan B may persuade Obama that he needs to give more ground in order to reach a Plan A deal that can pass the House.

But if, as I suspect, Obama is willing to go over the cliff provided he’s confident Republicans will be blamed, then the president now has the Republicans right where he wants them — headed over the cliff and easily portrayed as taking the country with them in order to protect millionaires.

NOTE: This post has been slightly revised since it first appeared.

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