Did Plan B’s defeat make a December deal more likely?

December 21, 2012

Some sharp analysts -- including Matthew YglesiasJon Chait and Phil Klein -- think the defeat of House Speaker John Boehner's "Plan B" might be good news for a December deal. 


Not a good week for John Boehner. (EPA -- Jim Lo Scalzo)

The argument goes like this: Boehner's initial hope -- "Plan A" -- was a deal with President Obama that a huge majority of his members would support. Boehner walked away from "Plan A," at least temporarily, because he didn't have the votes.

"Plan B" was a deal with his members that would strengthen his hand in his negotiations with the president by giving Republicans a more viable public position if they went off the "fiscal cliff." "Plan B" failed because Boehner, again, didn't have the votes.

The optimists' argument here is that Boehner has now learned two important things: He can't pass a deal with the president using mainly Republican votes, and he can't win a public fight with the president because Republicans won't agree to a moderate position that might protect the party from blame. Thus, "Plan C": Go back to the president, agree to a deal that only about half of his members will support, and pass it using Democratic votes. 

The problem with "Plan C" is the calendar: The vote to name the next Speaker of the House of Representatives is on Jan. 3 -- after we've gone over the fiscal cliff. If Boehner goes with "Plan C" and raises taxes over conservative objections, the likelihood of a challenge rises quickly. And remember, the Speaker of the House needs an absolute majority of the House. So a conservative challenge to Boehner doesn't need to get more votes than Boehner. It just needs to get the few dozen votes necessary to stop Boehner from passing the threshold. At that point, a consensus pick -- like Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy -- could come in and unite the caucus.

Boehner could, of course, wash his hands of his increasingly impossible and unrewarding job. He could pass "Plan C," soak in the elite applause, and then leave the House to go make millions as a lobbyist. But there's little evidence that he's ready to sacrifice his speakership for a deal.

The failure of "Plan B" doesn't make a deal impossible. In certain ways, it probably makes it easier, as Boehner now knows he'll need quite a few Democratic votes. But it makes a deal before we go over the fiscal cliff much harder. Boehner's vulnerable now; he knows it, and so does everyone else.

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