December 21, 2012

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The spectacular implosion of John Boehner’s Plan B confirms something that should have been obvious for a long time now: House conservatives simply may not be capable of playing any role in the near-term conversation over how to move the country forward and place it on a sounder fiscal and economic footing.

In a way, though, this last stand of sorts by conservatives — by confirming their own inability to play any meaningful or constructive part in the rest of this drama — could ultimately pave the way to a resolution.

Much of the commentary about what happened yesterday focuses on Boehner’s miscalculation: He hoped passing his Plan B would force the White House to move in his direction, and failed to anticipate the revolt among conservatives that would ensue. This is widely being painted as an unnecessary gamble that wasted crucial time. 

But last night confirmed something that needed to be established: Thanks to the conservative wing of the GOP, House Republicans, on their own, simply cannot pass anything that raises tax rates one penny on an extremely tiny, and extremely rich, minority of Americans — no matter how small or how wealthy. This may mean the only way to a deal will be to reach a compromise that includes a sizable number of House Dems.

At this stage, it’s hard to see any other way out, since there doesn’t appear to be any way of reaching an agreement that’s acceptable to White House and Senate Democrats on one side and House conservatives on the other. What we learned last night is that the gap cannot be bridged. And so, I’m hopeful that Obama and Boehner will begin to focus the talks on a final package that can win over a few dozen (or perhaps more) Republicans on one side and solid Democratic support on the other. It also wouldn’t be surprising if they coalesce around something that passes the House with roughly equal numbers from each party.

Another option for Boehner is to revert to the short term two-vote strategy to extend just the middle class tax cuts. He can hold a vote on extending all of them, which would be backed mostly or entirely by Republicans; and then hold a vote on the Senate bill extending just the low rates on income up to $250,000, which can pass mostly with Dem votes while Republicans vote No or “present.” Only the last one, of course, would be operative.

The possibility that House Dems will prove important to the prospects of any final deal is good news for progressives. Hopefully the need for Democratic support will give Nancy Pelosi a bit more influence over the final outcome and result in a better deal. In the end, the recognition that House conservatives have marginalized themselves to the point where they are seemingly incapable of playing a role in any compromise is clarity we probably needed.

* The GOP’s problem isn’t the message. It’s the policies: A very relevant finding in the new Post poll:

A majority of Americans (53 percent) say the Republicans’ problem is that they are overly conservative and unconcerned “with the welfare of the people, particularly those in the lower and middle income levels.” By contrast, 38 percent say the bigger issue is that  Republicans “need a better leader to explain and win support” for their policies.

Strikingly, 53 percent of independents agree with the former statement, too.

* Republicans in disarray after Plan B fiasco: This quote from GOP consultant Craig Shirley sums things up neatly:

“If this was a parliamentary system, tonight’s dissent on Plan B would be seen as a vote of no confidence in Boehner,” Shirley said. “The national GOP is now simply a collection of warring tribal factions.”

 Apparently, some Republicans voted against Plan B because they feared a Yes would open them up to a primary challenge — a vote to raises tax rates only on incomes over $1 million is apparently enough to provoke one!

* Boehner at risk? A telling detail in Politico’s account of the Plan B implosion:

Last month, Boehner won unanimous support of the House Republican Conference to serve as speaker for the next two years. But for the first time, GOP lawmakers privately told POLITICO Thursday night that there are questions about Boehner’s grip on power.

It’s worth remembering, though, that Eric Cantor was with Boehner all throughout. They’re in the same boat.

* House conservatives helped avert a bad deal: Good point from Paul Krugman: By blowing up Plan B, House conservatives may have saved Dems from a situation in which they were willing to flirt with a terrible deal in the futile quest to win over Republicans who would never compromise no matter what:

This is no time for a Grand Bargain, because the Republican Party, as now constituted, is just not an entity with which the president can make a serious deal. If we’re going to get a grip on our nation’s problems — of which the budget deficit is a minor part — the power of the G.O.P.’s extremists, and their willingness to hold the economy hostage if they don’t get their way, needs to be broken.

At least we now have clarity on that point.

* Obama again vows action on gun violence: The White House releases a video of Obama responding to all the people who have petitioned the White House for action on guns. Obama again vows specific steps, and crucially, tells people that he’s going to need their help in pressuring Congress for a sustained period: “You started something. Now I’m asking you to keep at it.”

This amounts to a recognition of the danger that public sentiment on the issue could dissipate as the Newtown headlines fade, and of the need for a major effort to keep the public engaged if real reform is to happen.

* Time to fix the background check system: The Times has an excellent overview of one of our most pressing gun-related problems: The pathetically porous background check system, which is compromised not just by loopholes, but also because many states fail to share data about criminals and the mentally ill with the feds.

This should be a no-brainer. As I keep saying, every member of Congress needs to be asked whether they agree with this: No gun should be sold in the U.S. without the buyer’s identity being checked against a national database.

* What will the NRA say today? NRA officials are holding a press conference in Washington, and it’ll be particularly interesting to see whether they will signal even the slightest willingness to consider reforms as sensible as tightening up our background check system. If not, they will be revealing once again that the NRA is chiefly a lobbyist for the gun industry, not for rank-and-file gun owners.

Also see Bloomberg View’s good editorial on the NRA’s longtime efforts to limit access to data that would reveal the truth about guns and make it easier to catch criminal buyers.

 * And portraits of the victims of mass shootings: Mother Jones compiles portraits of 151 people killed in America in mass shootings in the last year alone. Great, great work.

 What else?


 

 

 

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