The collapse of the House Republican leadership’s “Plan B” legislation this evening is being viewed first and foremost as a humiliating defeat for Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor. The proposal was supposed to be a clever tactic that would increase the pressure on President Obama and the Democrats since it would, at least theoretically, take the GOP off the hook for the country going over the fiscal cliff in the absence of a deal with the White House on spending and taxes. But Boehner didn’t have enough votes from his own caucus to back Plan B, even though it limited tax increases to those making over $1 million rather than the lower limits offered by the president in negotiations.
There are those who will argue that the collapse of Plan B will force Boehner back into negotiations with the president and create a situation where a grand budget deal would be possible. But the question that must be asked now is: if Boehner and Cantor could not whip up enough Republican votes for their own proposal, how is it possible that they could muster their support for an accord that would by definition be even less attractive to conservatives?
It is true that any deal struck between Boehner and Obama that would bridge the current gap between their positions on the budget would have considerable Democratic support and therefore enough votes to pass the House. But one has to ask how could Boehner’s leadership of the Republicans be sustained if on the most important piece of legislation before the Congress he relied more on Democrats than members of his own caucus?
It should be stipulated that the concerns voiced by members about Plan B are far from irrational. There is no reason to think a tax increase on anyone will boost the economy. Nor will soaking millionaires do much to cut the deficit. Nothing, other than the liberal ideology of the Democrats, would lead the country to raise taxes at a time when the economy is in such a fragile state.
But a failure to reach a deal with the White House would be a far greater catastrophe for the country than those tax hikes. Doing so would mean an across-the-board tax increase for everyone and mandate spending cuts on defense that would be ruinous.
Conservatives have a point when they say they were sent to Washington to stand up for their party’s principles, not to bow to liberal pressure. But it must also be understood that the people have spoken and, by electing a Republican House to govern alongside a Democrat Senate and president, have mandated that the two parties try to work together, no matter how much it bothers them.
Boehner seems to understand this, but the failure of his Plan B tactic demonstrates that such big picture thinking isn’t acceptable to the mindset of enough House Republicans to enable the speaker to prevail. That leaves him caught between allowing the country to go over the fiscal cliff—which would be blamed more on Republicans than the president—and a deal that most Republicans won’t buy. Either way, this is bad news for the speaker and the country’s fiscal health.