WASHINGTON — Speaker of the House John Boehner sent the House home for Christmas Thursday night, opting not to bring his “Plan B” bill to the floor when it became clear that he did not have the votes within his own caucus to pass it.
It is a major defeat for Boehner and the House Republican leadership, who have spent the past two days pushing hard for the bill at the expense of negotiations with President Barack Obama. Thursday morning, Cantor confidently declared “we’re going to have the votes to pass” Plan B. Boehner made an equally confident declaration Wednesday that, “Tomorrow, the House will pass legislation to make permanent tax relief for nearly every American.”
Evidently, they spoke too soon.
“The House did not take up the tax measure today because it did not have sufficient support from our members to pass,” Boehner said in a statement Thursday night. “Now it is up to the president to work with [Senate Majority Leader] Senator [Harry] Reid on legislation to avert the fiscal cliff. The House has already passed legislation to stop all of the January 1 tax rate increases and replace the sequester with responsible spending cuts that will begin to address our nation’s crippling debt. The Senate must now act.”
Boehner introduced Plan B on Tuesday as a back-up measure, to avert a tax hike if his negotiations with Obama continued to stall. It would have extended tax cuts for Americans making less than $1 million. The president quickly announced he would veto it, and Democratic senators declared it would be “dead on arrival” if it made it to the Senate.
The House was set to vote on the bill around 7:30 p.m. Thursday, but it became clear that Boehner did not have the votes in his own caucus to push the bill through. The “Spending Reduction Act” was added to the agenda by the Wednesday night rules committee and was intended to deal with the sequester and balance Boehner’s tax hike with some spending cuts. It passed by a narrow 215-209 votes, with one member voting present.
At 7:45, GOP leadership called an unscheduled conference meeting.
Even before the meeting began, members were pessimistic about the possibility of a vote. Rep. Kay Granger of Texas, asked by reporters if she thought they could get the bill done, shook her head. Rep. Virginia Foxx, asked the same thing, grimaced.
During the meeting, it was officially established that they did not have the necessary votes.
“We have different thoughts and ideas and approaches to this problem, and we just couldn’t get enough consensus,” said Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana, who told reporters he would not have voted for the bill.
The mood in the room was the one of “fatigue and a little bit of frustration,” Fleming said.
“We want something to happen here, we want it to happen good and positive for the American people, and we just feel like we’re not getting a willing partner in President Obama, and so we’re a little crestfallen that we can’t get help on the other side,” he said.
Rep. Buck McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, echoed the feeling of frustration that even if they had found the votes to pass Plan B, it would have gone nowhere.
“The Senate just will not act on anything,” he said, adding that this fact had justified members who “felt like they had to stand on the principle” and not vote to raise taxes.
“Without us being on the same page with one strategy, we just decided as a group not to move forward, and to leave it to the Senate and the president to come our direction,” Fleming said. “We seem to be doing all the work and they’re doing nothing.”
It is an upset for Boehner, who has spent the past two days pushing for Plan B.
Emerging from the closed-door meeting, outgoing Rep. Allen West told reporters, “Merry Christmas.”
The House will return “sometime after Christmas,” members said.
A Boehner aide did not immediately respond when asked if the speaker would immediately return to Ohio or remain here and resume fiscal cliff talks with the president.
The White House issued a statement shortly after the plan was pulled, expressing optimism that they could come to an agreement to avoid tax hikes.
“The president’s main priority is to ensure that taxes don’t go up on 98 percent of Americans and 97 percent of small businesses in just a few short days,” said press secretary Jay Carney in a statement. “The president will work with Congress to get this done and we are hopeful that we will be able to find a bipartisan solution quickly that protects the middle class and our economy.”