December 20, 2012

House Republicans embarrassed their speaker Thursday night by shutting down his Plan B to protect all but millionaires from a tax hike, come Jan. 1. How close was the GOP to having enough support for Speaker John Boehner’s plan? A senior leadership aide replied glumly, “Not close enough.”

Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Whip Kevin McCarthy

The outcome stunned House leadership: In one vote (or nonvote), the all-or-nothing crowd handed the high ground back to the president, who can now rightly claim that House Republicans would rather raise everyone’s taxes than raise them on millionaires.

It is a stunning miscalculation, one that allows the president and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to essentially write whatever bill they can get through the Senate and then watch House Republicans either cave (to a deal that will certainly be worse) or effectively raise taxes for the entire country.

Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement, “The House did not take up the tax measure today because it did not have sufficient support from our members to pass. 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.”

A Republican senior aide explained, “We have some members that would rather let all tax rates go up ‘without their fingerprints’ than save some taxpayers from a tax hike and letting just the top rate go up. That is what it amounts to.”

In this fight, according to a source close to the speaker, House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) “was a rock star.  He and the Speaker worked closely together throughout this process, and Eric worked his butt off.”

Unfortunately his caucus has rendered Boehner a nonplayer in any future fiscal negotiation because he can no longer speak for his conference. Perhaps Boehner should quit and let the House GOP stew and watch as the country grabs pitchforks and torches to come after the tax-hikers. This is a party acting like a minority party, or worse, like petulant teenagers.

The world of Heritage Action Network, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and the other all-or-nothing hard-liners in the conservative media have encouraged and will delight in this sort of fiasco. That said, the fault lies with the spineless members who think they’ll escape blame if they don’t vote for any measure. That is folly, not to mention political cowardice. To govern is to choose, and they apparently can do neither.

This sort of display suggests Republicans are not capable of governing. What was an argument by Democrats (They are unreasonable! They only care for the rich!) is now a political reality.

When I posed the question “What next?” to several senior Republicans, the answer came back, ” I really don’t know” or “Good question.” What we do know is that House Republicans may have confirmed the good judgment of the American people in keeping divided government. Goodness knows none of these people can be trusted.