Manuel Balce Ceneta

The Senate Democratic leadership has tentatively decided not to hold any vote at all on John Boehner’s “plan B” fiscal alternative if it passes the House today, a senior Senate Democratic aide confirms to me, underscoring the futility for Republicans of holding the vote on Boehner’s plan in the first place.

“We’re in a strong position,” the aide told me, referencing the fact that the Senate has already passed, and sent to the House, a bill that would extend the tax cuts on income up to $250,000. “We’re going to simply say, `They are sitting on our fallback plan.’  We have the strongest possible hand, because we have a Senate-passed bill at $250,000.”

While the aide cautioned that plans could change, he stressed that top Democrats had concluded in the last 24 hours that there’s no percentage in holding a vote on the Boehner bill, which would lock in the Bush-era tax rates for all income up to $1 million.

This could have the effect of undermining support for Boehner’s bill among House conservatives. Groups like the Heritage Foundation and the Club for Growth are whipping hard against the bill, and many conservatives are leaning against voting for it or are undecided, because they oppose raising tax rates under any circumstances. They may ask themselves why they should bother voting for a bill they consider a tax-hiking sell-out when it likely won’t even get a vote in the Senate.

The senior Senate Democratic aide said that Democrats are prepared to allow the standoff to stray into the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. The idea is that if the House passes the “plan B” alternative, Senate Dems will remind Republicans that there is no point in voting for it, since Obama has already pledged to veto it, and that Republicans are already sitting on a Senate bill that will prevent taxes going up on the middle class. Then both sides break for Christmas, and hopefully Boehner returns more willing to reach a compromise.

“We can break for Christmas eve, and hopefully people will then get serious,” the aide says. “Hopefully that will chasten him a bit.”

Again, things can always change. Other options include the Senate voting the bill down, or perhaps amending it somehow and sending it back to the House, though the latter option is unlikely. But holding no vote at all on the bill would appear to be the best option for Democrats.

The GOP strategy is to pass the “plan B” bill to inoculate Republicans against public blame if we go over the cliff, by allowing them to claim they were willing to raise tax rates on millionaires. But remember, under Boehner’s plan, even those who make over $1 million get a tax cut relative to Obama’s plan, because under the Boehner proposal they will be enjoying lower tax rates on all income up to $1 million. So if we do go over the cliff, Dems can continue to argue that Republicans allowed us to go over the cliff — leading to the expiration of unemployment benefits and a drop in Medicare payments — to protect the wealth of top earners. With polls showing the public is poised to blame Republicans for the failure to reach a deal, there’s no reason for Dems to validate Boehner’s plan, which would give him a bit more leverage in the push for a final compromise.

 

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