The PJ Tatler

After the Plan B Meltdown

NRO’s Robert Costa captured what amounts to word pictures of the craters left after last night’s debacle in the US House. Everyone in the GOP caucus, including those who most stridently opposed Plan B, were shocked that the bill actually died without a vote.

Since the meeting lasted only a few minutes, several members, such as Representative Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, missed the session. As Huelskamp, a leading “Plan B” adversary, rushed to get there, he saw a stream of his colleagues leaving. They were on their phones with aides and family members, sharing the news. They’d be coming home for the holidays since the House was in a state of chaos. Some of them, however, seemed bewildered by the turn of events. They walked slowly down the basement hallway, whispering with other members. One freshman asked a senior member, “Are we really not coming back?” The senior member simply nodded. Almost everyone avoided the press. Feelings were raw. Representative Steve King of Iowa, a frequent Boehner critic, looked at me, shook his head, and said, “I have nothing to say.”

Circumstances drove Boehner’s plan to push Plan B in the first place. The fiscal cliff allows President Obama and the Democrats to achieve three of their long-standing goals: Raise taxes broadly, which in their view will bring in more revenue for the government to spend; cut defense spending, which year in and year out is always the first and only government spending they seek to cut; and divide their Republican opposition while blaming them for the tax hikes.

Plan B was an attempt to gain some leverage by putting pressure on the Democrat-controlled Senate to pass a package that included preserving current tax rates on everyone making less than $1 million per year. Allowing the tax cuts on those making above that level was a concession, to reality: Obama still controls the White House and the Democrats still control the Senate. No deal that pleases all conservatives will ever get past either of those Democratic stopping points. The stage has already been set for the Republicans to be blamed for damage resulting from going over the fiscal cliff.

That Speaker Boehner called Plan B to a vote, or nearly did, without actually having the votes to pass it does not speak well of his leadership. He has failed to wring anything meaningful out of the Democrats, and he has failed to clearly point out why: They’re not dealing in good faith. Last night’s near vote cost him any leverage he might have had in ongoing talks with the president and the Democrats’ leader in the Senate. His speakership is hobbled but there are no challengers rising up to replace him or offer any better leadership. The conservatives in the GOP caucus who fought Plan B chose the wrong hill to die on. They were never going to get everything they want. Now they’re likely to get nothing that they want. The Republicans on the Hill are divided going into the holiday recess. We’re a fortnight away from seeing our taxes go up and our national defenses shorn to pre-World War I levels. Republicans are likely to bear the brunt of the blame, despite the fact that they oppose all of this and have been the only ones striving to prevent it.

President Obama comes out of last night’s debacle in a position of greater political strength, without having had to move an inch. The GOP leaders in the House will end up having to chase Democratic votes to get anything passed. The markets are reacting negatively to the near vote so far, dropping sharply in light pre-Christmas trading. A president who puts economic growth first would find this worrying, but Barack Obama is clearly putting politics first. Boehner’s Plan B was an attempt to expose that fact, but it instead exposed the fissures on the right. Obama’s priorities all along have been political, and he is well on the way to achieving all that he wants, while positioning himself to be able to blame Republicans for all the downsides. The media will amplify that.

Many of us on the right like to call Obama an amateur, but the fact is, he has won national election twice by hook or by crook, and right now he is poised to benefit from the threat of economic difficulty that he has helped engineer, again. The amateurs are those who think he is dealing in good faith, and those who think one stand on “principle” or “letting it burn” will end up hurting Obama. The fact that at this stage the Republicans have no good options left while the Democrats are set up to swoop in as saviors of the very middle class that their policies are destroying tells us who the real amateurs are.