John Boehner nervously eyes the clock

December 7, 2012

J. Scott Applewhite

John Boehner held a presser in the Capitol just now, to press the message that there has been no progress in the fiscal cliff talks, and that Boehner’s plan — proposed last week — tosses the ball back into Obama’s court.  It’s unclear what this presser accomplished for him. He resembled nothing so much as a football coach nervously eying the clock with time running out — with his team losing and no new set of plays to run.

Here’s what Boehner said:

This isn’t a progress report because there’s no progress to report. [...]

The President wants to raise tax rates. But even if the President got the tax hike rate that he wanted, understand that we could continue to see trillion dollar deficits for as far as the eye can see. Washington’s got a spending problem, not a revenue problem. If the president doesn’t agree with our proposal, I believe that he’s got an obligation to families and small businesses to offer a plan of his own — a plan that can pass both chambers of the Congress. [...]

When is he going to take a step towards us?

 Assuming the idea here was to inject the GOP’s version of events into the bloodstream in advance of the weekend, what exactly did this accomplish? Boehner said the talks are going nowhere. Fine, but polls show that majorities blame the GOP for the failure to reach a compromise. Boehner said that “Washington’s got a spending problem, not a revenue problem.” Okay, but the American people disagree: Polls consistently show that a majority wants a mix of spending cuts and tax hikes to solve our fiscal problems. The public understands that, yes, to some degree, we do have a revenue problem.

Boehner said Obama has an obligation to offer a plan that can pass both Houses of Congress. But even some Republicans, such as Reps. Tom Cole and Tim Scott — believe that extending just the middle class tax cuts — which Obama is demanding — could pass the House. Boehner has this option; it’s on him if he isn’t taking it.

What’s more, there’s that scenario we talked about yesterday: House Republicans could hold two votes, one on extending all the tax cuts, which would pass with votes from Republicans, and one on extending just the middle class tax cuts, which would pass with votes mostly from Democrats. The Senate would just pass the latter. Some observers have noted it might not be able to pass the House, because virtually no Republicans would vote for it. But House Republicans already would have voted to extend all the cuts, so enough of them might have cover to extend the middle class cuts — particularly since this would get Republicans out of the box they’re in and allow them to evade blame for the tax cuts expiring.

As for Boehner’s demand that the president move towards Republicans, Politico reports today that there are conflicting accounts of the latest meeting between White House negotiators and the House GOP leadership. One account holds that if Republicans give ground on rates, they could get a deal worked out quickly. There’s little reason to doubt that if the GOP did agree to a hike in rates, the White House would serve up some concessions in return — probably ones that the left would dislike.

I really hope that what we saw today is Boehner holding out for as long as he can, until more Republicans — contemplating the prospect of going home for the holidays and explaining why middle class taxes went up — begin to break with the leadership, forcing him to allow the House to vote on extending them. Then he can claim he had no choice and fought to the bitter end. I still suspect that this is how it will play out. If not, we’re going over the cliff.

 

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.
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Greg Sargent | December 7, 2012