Republicans stood at the edge of the fiscal cliff and decided not to jump.
They were supposed to pass House Speaker John Boehner’s “Plan B.” Instead they abruptly went home for the holiday. Merry Christmas, the war is over.
So what’s the plan now?
Plan B was aptly named. It was an emergency measure designed to prevent an already legislated tax increase conceived during unprotected negotiations with Democrats. It was a concession that Republicans — who control neither the White House nor the Senate — have no good options.
Late Thursday afternoon, the GOP leadership was still projecting confidence that they would be able to cobble together the votes. But Republican backbenchers did not think they were getting enough spending cuts to compensate for letting taxes rise even on people earning above $1 million.
How would they sell this at home? And if the plan couldn’t pass the Senate or earn the president’s signature, they knew it would not be the last concession they would be asked to make.
This is reminiscent of when the Republicans in the House struggled to pass the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and Medicare Part D. But this time, there is no guarantee the leadership will ultimately prevail — or that the current leadership team will even remain intact.
Steve LaTourette, a moderate Republican congressman from Ohio, reportedly blamed the “same 40 chuckleheads” for the failure to pass Plan B.
The “asshole factor” was blamed when four strong-willed fiscal conservatives were purged from their preferred House committee assignments.
Which “assholes” are to blame now?
To be sure, any Plan B defeat carries a risk for Republicans. Without the Senate or presidency, it will be impossible to prevent at least some tax increases, much less to force serious budget cuts and entitlement reforms.
Plan B at least had the potential of taking away the talking point that Republicans were holding middle-class tax cuts hostage to keep taxes lower for millionaires and billionaires.
Boehner was conceding that taxes on millionaires and billionaires would rise in exchange for keeping taxes low on more than 98 percent of taxpayers. Now, if the crisis isn’t averted we’ll experience either an across-the-board tax increase or the transformation of the Bush tax cuts into the Obama tax cuts.
Neither possibility will be good for the Republican brand on taxes.
But without cooperative media coverage, would a narrative more favorable to House Republicans really have stuck? The vote on taxes is as much about rubbing the Republicans’ collective noses in their November defeat as it is the dreaded fiscal cliff.
We have learned a few things. Some House Republicans — perhaps a critical mass — no longer fear their leadership. And their resistance to tax increases isn’t based on some mythical fear of Grover Norquist either.
Principle, economic concerns, and a desire to heed the conservative base is what led some Republicans to balk at caving on taxes. Grover Norquist’s group gave them the okay to vote for Plan B.
Republicans were promised that good results and short-term political gain would follow their votes for the 1990 “read my lips” tax increase, the deficit-funded Medicare prescription drug benefit, and the TARP bailout.
But in conservative circles, at least, it is the Republicans who voted no on these bills who are remembered as the heroes. The backbenchers are betting that their opposition to Plan B, the god that failed, will be remembered similarly.
The fiscal cliff itself is a self-inflicted wound on a political class that refuses to face up to its budgetary responsibilities. The country is going broke.
Maybe what the Republican-controlled House just did amounts to recklessness. But we’ve already tried fecklessness and it is getting us nowhere.
If this be the asshole factor, then let us make the most of it.
W. James Antle III is the editor of The Daily Caller News Foundation. Follow him on Twitter.