“I think the speaker’s legacy and his leadership are at stake here,” said Lee Hamilton, an Indiana Democrat, who served more than 30 years in the House and is now the director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. “This is a major moment in his career.”
Hamilton said that, ultimately, the Ohio Republican’s reputation probably will be determined by whether Congress and President Obama manage to cut a fiscal cliff agreement and not by one legislative setback.
But late Thursday, Boehner failed to get the 217 votes he needed to pass a plan to extend tax breaks for more than 99 percent of Americans, while allowing them to rise for those making more than $1 million a year. He had already failed to reach a broader bipartisan deficit reduction plan in one-on-one talks with Obama, but the collapse of his own plan left Boehner throwing up his hands and insisting that it was now up to the president and the Democratic-controlled Senate to solve the crisis.
Boehner vowed Saturday to “continue to work with our colleagues in the Congress and the White House on a plan that protects families and small businesses.”
But, in the GOP’s weekly taped address, he reiterated Republican opposition to tax increases and called for more concessions from the White House.
‘It’s one for the textbooks’
The collapse of Boehner’s own plan Thursday seemed a monumental setback.
“On a major piece of legislation that affects taxes and the functioning of government and so many of the things wrapped up in this fiscal cliff, I can’t think of anything comparable,” said Ray Smock, who served as the House’s official historian from 1983 to 1995 and now is director of the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies at Shepherd University.
Smock noted the drama of Thursday night’s non-vote, with Boehner on the verge of tears as he announced to his caucus he was canceling the vote and then stormed from the Capitol. “It’s one for the textbooks, I’ll tell you that,” he said.
Despite the defections among his GOP members, there was no sign Friday that Boehner was in immediate danger of being deposed as House leader.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), often cast as Boehner’s leading conservative rival, had likewise leaned on Republicans to approve what Boehner had dubbed “Plan B.”
In a show of support, Cantor appeared at a news conference at Boehner’s side Friday to call for the Senate to extend tax rates for Americans at all income levels, the long-held GOP position.