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Fiscal Cliff: House Postpones John Boehner's 'Plan B' Vote
fallback plan through the House Thursday night, suddenly pulling the bill after spending almost week on a plan that Democrats called a waste of time.
"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. "Now it is up to the president to work with Senator 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."
The failure to bring the measure to a vote marks a setback for Boehner, who was unable to marshal enough of his fractious, Tea Party-inspired members. Meanwhile, the nation moves closer to the so-called fiscal cliff, after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) declared earlier Thursday that the Senate will recess Friday until two days after Christmas.
That would leave less than five full days to find a way around the cliff, which Congress itself created by mandating in last year's debt-ceiling agreement that some $1 trillion in budget cuts start kicking in after Jan. 1. That's also when Congress has mandated that all of the Bush-era tax cuts from 2001 and 2003 expire.
Boehner's bill aimed to keep all the tax cuts for those earning less than $1 million a year -- a scheme similar to what Democrats had backed two years ago, when they were unable to get the GOP to budge at all on taxes.
Democrats opposed Boehner's plan because it did not include many provisions that were included in their version. They argued that the Plan B bill would end some tax cuts for the middle class -- worth on average about $1,000 a year -- while it actually preserved some tax breaks for millionaires worth approximately $50,000. On top that, Democrats campaigned -- and won -- on keeping taxes lower for those with incomes of less than $250,000.
The House did pass one part of Boehner's fallback -- a bill to cut spending by $200 billion, mostly by slashing domestic programs, including favorite GOP targets such as health care and food stamps.
Democratic leaders said the whole effort was a futile display that drew the nation closer to the fiscal cliff. They argued that Boehner should work more closely with Obama on a real solution.
"The reason we're here is because our Republican colleagues refuse to compromise," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). "We are wasting the people's time."
Boehner stood by his strategy as recently as Thursday afternoon, insisting that the Senate would have to give his bill a vote.
If Boehner's bill had passed, it would have marked a shift in the GOP's absolute opposition of all tax hikes, and offering a ray of hope that the two sides could come together. With time running out, however, it would be difficult for Democrats and Republicans to agree on a plan that Boehner could get his stalwart Tea Party members to sign.
Still, the attempt was strongly opposed by Democrats, and Republicans can tell their anti-tax base that holding the purist line on taxes is impossible because of the utter rejection of Plan B by the other party.
"We're showing that we don't have a partner in the White House and we don't have a partner in this body," said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).
Republicans have admitted that the whole equation changes after Jan. 1, when tax rates default back to the Clinton era. The debate then would no longer be about raising taxes, but about lowering them, and the GOP would have few options to stop Democrats from passing their middle class tax break. Then, cutting a deal on taxes -- if not spending -- becomes relatively easy, and likely would be accomplished quickly.
"If we go over the fiscal cliff, the president just comes back and says, 'Ok, we're going to give tax cuts to everybody under 250,000.' Who's going to vote against that? Everybody'll vote for that. Everybody," Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) said shortly before the votes. "It will be just a fait accompli. You won't be voting on whether you're going to do away with a tax cut, you're going to be reimposing tax cuts for everybody under 250,000. So the Republicans are in an untenable situation."
Ryan Grim contributed.
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