Fiscal Cliff: Drink Some Eggnog and Deal With It
The Mayan apocalypse didn't take out Earth today as doomsayers predicted, but House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) may have not wanted to get out of bed regardless.
The B-pocalypse -- also known as the disastrous crash-and-burn plan of Boehner's to force a compromise on the fiscal cliff -- rippled through Washington today, raising questions not only about the deadline just 10 days away but whether Republicans can even find a foothold anymore in negotiations moving into the holidays.
Boehner told reporters the morning after that his bill couldn't come to the floor last night because it lacked the votes for passage -- not the outcome he wanted, but "the will of the House."
"So unless the president and Congress take action, the tax rates will go up on every American taxpayer and devastating defense cuts will go into effect in 10 days," he warned.
"I don't want taxes to go up; Republicans don't want taxes to go up. But we only run the House. Democrats continue to run Washington."
As to what went wrong last night, Boehner blamed a "perception" that his Plan B -- which raised the threshold for the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts from the president's $250,000 to $1 million -- amounted to a tax increase.
"Now, we had a number of our members who just really didn't want to be perceived as having raised taxes. That was the real issue," he said.
"I have told my colleagues this: If you do the right things every day for the right reasons, the right things will happen. And, while we may have not been able to get the votes last night to avert 99.81 percent of the tax increases, I don't think -- they weren't taking that out on me. They -- they were dealing with the perception that somebody might accuse them of raising taxes," Boehner concluded, leaving the press with a curt "Merry Christmas, everyone."
President Obama suggested that lawmakers could come to a place of reason -- e.g., his proposal -- by indulging in some Christmas cheer over the holiday break.
"During the course of these negotiations, I offered to compromise with Republicans in Congress. I met them halfway on taxes and I met them more than halfway on spending. In terms of actual dollar amounts, we're not that far apart," Obama said in an early evening statement in the press briefing room, after speaking with Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
The president again called on Congress to extend middle-class tax rates and then come back to upper incomes at another, undetermined time.
"At the very least, let's agree right now on what we already agree on," he said.
Obama claimed that with the last election, "the American people have determined that governing is a shared responsibility between both parties."
"In this Congress, laws can only pass with support from Democrats and Republicans. And that means nobody gets 100 percent of what they want. Everybody's gotta give a little bit in a sensible way. We move forward together, or we do not move forward at all," he continued.
"So, as we leave town for a few days to be with our families for the holidays, I hope it gives everybody some perspective. Everybody can cool off. Everybody can drink some eggnog, have some Christmas cookies, sing -- sing some Christmas carols, enjoy the company of loved ones."
He told lawmakers to think about their "obligations" while enjoying holiday merriment and about economic recovery.
"Now is not the time for more self-inflicted wounds, certainly not those coming from Washington."
Obama didn't take any questions before leaving for his Christmas vacation in Honolulu.
House Democratic leaders put on a similar news conference earlier in the day, saying the president had made concessions and Republicans weren't being fair.
"Every time we are close to a solution, whether it was a year-and-a-half ago in the summer or right now, the Republicans walk away. And when we thought we were close this week, Republicans decided to follow another path -- a path that led them over the cliff, a route in which they even did not have the votes," Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said.
Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the Boehner fail in securing votes for Plan B proved that a fiscal cliff deal won't pass on a partisan basis.
"Some years ago, we confronted partisan gridlock. Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton got together to reach an agreement. It was very controversial. And Newt Gingrich said, and this is October 20th, 1998: 'So I say to each and every member of this House, unless they have a plan that they think can get 218 votes over here and pass through a filibuster in the Senate and get signed, there is no responsible vote except yes,'" Hoyer said. "America expects its Congress to get to yes."
But Boehner can't even get his caucus to yes.
Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) was in the caucus room last night, and told CNN this morning the scene was "unlike anything I have seen in my brief 10 years here at the nation's capitol."
"I will tell you this. I spent the last 48 hours talking to people at home and talking to Tea Party leaders, talking to municipal leaders, state leaders and just regular rank-and-file folks. And, their comments to me were always the same. They would say, stay strong. And I would say, what do you mean by that?" Burgess said. "They would say, well, don't cave. Well, what does that mean? They said, well, cut spending and that is, you know, the bottom line message that everyone delivered to me. I said, OK, but we're not talking about spending. This is the tax piece. And when I would explain things like the permanent relief from the alternative minimum tax, the certainty of tax rates for everyone who earned under a million dollars a year."
"Actually, people began to listen to that and say, well, you know, that's not so bad. But I guess with the timeline involved, the speaker and the House leadership just did not have time to develop that story. And you know, here's the news flash for you. We don't always communicate that well on the Republican side."
Burgess said the result may have been different if the negotiations were televised on C-SPAN instead of unfolding "in some secret room."
"Very difficult job for the speaker to go down there and go up against the full majesty of the president of the United States and expect to come out a winner," he said.
Rep. Steve Latourette (R-Ohio) said the B-bomb showed the weakening and "continuing dumbing down" of the GOP.
"We are going to be seen more and more as a bunch of extremists that can't even get a majority of our own people to support policies that we're putting forward," he said. "If you're not a governing majority, you're not going to be a majority."
Burgess stressed, though, that Obama "can't keep shutting us out."
"And remember, there are 435 House members. Look, I don't know what will happen next. I rather expect Harry Reid will send something back over to us," he said. "But remember, tax bills have to originate in the House of Representatives. This is going to be a tough slog."
Reid has repeatedly insisted that, if given the opportunity, the majority of House members would vote for the Senate Democrats' Obama-approved tax-cut extension for just the middle class.
"We knew the so-called Plan B was no plan at all," Reid gloated today. "It couldn’t pass the Senate. Turns out, it couldn’t pass the House, either."
"There’s still time for Speaker Boehner to hit the brakes and avoid the cliff," he said. "The Senate-passed bill would protect 98 percent of families and 97 percent of small businesses from crippling tax hikes while President Obama and the speaker work toward a comprehensive agreement."
One of the conservatives opposing Boehner's plan was Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas), who was yanked off the Budget and Agriculture committees by the speaker for the 113th Congress -- an early December move that the congressman saw as a "petty," "vindictive" strike against conservatives.
"I am a conservative, and I make no bones about it. My constituents are very conservative as well, and they've been so frustrated that leadership in the House right now, the speaker has been talking about tax increases. That's all we've been talking about," Huelskamp said this morning on MSNBC.
"It's usually John Boehner dive left, and conservatives on the outside, and at the end of the day they'll call the Democrats and say, 'We'll get the votes to piece that together.'"