by John Fredericks
In a chaotic scene last night on Capitol Hill the often contentious and controversial reign of House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) was put to further test. The emotional Congressional leader could not deliver the necessary 217 votes out of his caucus needed to pass his strategic ploy –referred to as plan B — to gain negotiating leverage over President Obama to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff.
Boehner was confronted with the reality of seeing his bill that decoupled taxes from spending cuts and called for increasing marginal tax rates only on those with incomes over $1 million going down in flames on the House floor.
The Midwestern promptly pulled his legislation from the docket and cancelled the vote. But not before a last-ditch effort to convince wayward Republicans to throw in with him. In a hastily called closed-door meeting with Republicans in a room in the House basement, Boehner and his leadership team reportedly implored his conference to support his plan B option. Not open the press, shouting could be heard emanating from the room in what was undoubtedly a raucous meeting.
Members who emerged from the conference said Boehner invoked the serenity prayer — “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,” — and nearly wept during the meeting.
Thursday night’s melodrama crystallized the future as it relates to the nation’s now inexorable march off the fiscal cliff.
In pure economic policy terms, it now leaves the next steps to avert the automatic tax increases set to take hold on January 2 2013 in the hands of President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).
“Now it is up to the president to work with Sen. Reid on legislation to avert the fiscal cliff,” Boehner said Thursday night.
Politically, it’s nothing short of a catastrophe for Boehner and his leadership team. In what was originally conceived to be a show of strength to increase public pressure on Obama to move further to the GOP’s position in negotiating the terms of avoiding the fiscal cliff, instead it backfired on the Speaker – irrevocably neutering his executive voracity — and potentially dooming his cling to power — in the process.
The die was cast as Thursday wore on. More and more House conservatives began coalescing against Boehner’s initiative for a variety of reasons.
Fourth District La. Republican Dr. John Fleming came out against plan B early in day, calling it both bad policy and a branding problem for Republicans.
“Republicans will get blamed for this either way, so we might as well be on the right side of history,” Fleming said. When asked about the perils of going over the “fiscal cliff,” Fleming replied that Americans chose that path, “when they reelected Barack Obama on November 6. They knew they were voting for higher taxes, so here they come.”
Fleming said he could not support a tax increase in a recessionary economy under any circumstances. “This would be the first time in decades the Republican Party endorsed increasing taxes on Americans,” Fleming stated. “I don’t want to be branded as the Party that stands for ‘less more taxes.’ We have to stand for something bolder than that.”
Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA/4th) said he was not inclined to vote the Boehner plan, either. Forbes labeled it as bad policy, and said he was concerned that it did not address at least three of the four real issues: out of control spending, the perils of sequestration and transparency. Forbes prefers an open negotiating process that is broadcast live. “Only then will we get a serious discussion and real solutions,” said the internationally recognized U.S. defense expert.
Along with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA/7th), Rep. Scott Rigell (R-VA/2nd) acknowledged he would have supported Boehner’s legislation.
Rigell, who is passionate about analyzing hard data to determine economic outcomes, says he favors an increase in tax revenues through capping deductions. The former Virginia Beach business owner said the current revenue/cost models in place virtually guarantee increases in the national debt into perpetuity. He favors a combination of increased tax revenues and decreased spending to begin to shrink the deficit.
The future prospect of Boehner maintaining his House leadership position is murky at best. Badly wounded politically by Thursday night’s debacle, the Speaker is likely to face a serious challenge from the Right. One potential foe is Georgia Rep. Tom Price (R-6th), who represents Atlanta’s northern suburbs. It’s also the same seat that Newt Gingrich held while he served as House Speaker. Price, an M.D., is currently Chairman of the powerful Republican Policy committee. He lost a bid to become House Republican Conference chairman –the fourth ranking House leadership post — last month to Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington. McMorris Rodgers’ election, held behind closed doors, was seen as a victory at the time for Boehner, who had made it known he supported her candidacy.
Price’s overt supporters included Budget Committee Chairman and former candidate for Vice President Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, and current Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas.
Now it’s Price who may be the one to try to oust Boehner.
John Fredericks is a syndicated morning radio talk show host in Virginia and can be heard M-F 6-9 a.m. on WTNT –AM 730 & 102.9FM in D.C., WLEE AM 990 in Richmond and WHKT AM 1650 in Tidewater, or streaming online at www.thejohnfrederickshow.com