The final blow came Monday, when it became clear that Boehner wasn’t going to get the cuts from Obama that he felt he needed. After a 4 p.m. meeting with his leadership team, Boehner called Obama again.
It was time for Plan B, he said.
Having gambled and lost with Obama, Boehner would now gamble with his own caucus.
“Plan A was going nowhere. They had been talking for weeks, and they couldn’t lock something down. So you gotta go to Plan B,” Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), one of three powerful committee chairmen advising Boehner on the talks, said Thursday.
Plan B was simple: Republicans would vote to permanently extend tax cuts for virtually all taxpayers, while raising rates on millionaires.
The rationale was to take the tax issue off the table by extending tax breaks to more than 99.8 percent of taxpayers, according to senior GOP aides. Removing the tax issue, one outside Boehner adviser said Thursday, would then put Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) in a stronger position to argue for deeper spending cuts. “Trench by trench,” the adviser said.
Some Republicans defended Boehner even as they suggested they wouldn’t have supported the framework he was pursuing, saying that the White House could not be trusted.
“There were a lot of gimmicks in the proposals coming from the White House,” said Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) “Double counting previous counts, [war savings], interest payments. There was a lot of Washington, D.C., maneuvers in there.”
But to many Republicans, Plan B never made much sense. Why would the party of lower taxes vote to raise them?
Exiting their regular Tuesday morning meeting, many Republicans seemed to think that Plan B would lead to higher taxes without gaining anything in return. Freshman Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), a former Notre Dame football player prone to giving locker-room-style speeches in defense of Boehner, said he was puzzled. “There’s just nothing real clear to me,” he said Tuesday morning.
On Wednesday, Boehner vowed that Plan B would pass. But the natural glad-hander was also more aggressive in pursuing his colleagues on the House floor, where he was trying to rally support for Plan B, according to his aides. The speaker walked up and down the aisles of the Republican half of the chamber, nodding at some members and shaking hands or patting the shoulders of others.
As he made one final pass at wavering colleagues, Boehner went to the front of the chamber and briefly sat behind Reps. Phil Gingrey and Jack Kingston, two conservative Republicans from Georgia strongly opposed to tax hikes. He was seen waving his hands at one point before getting up to go.
On Thursday, it was Cantor who confidently predicted victory.
But behind the scenes, concern was growing when it became clear that Ohio Republicans — the supposed backbone of Boehner’s strength — were considering opposing Plan B. During votes Thursday afternoon, Cantor and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) were seen speaking with several potential “no” votes, including Rep. James B. Renacci (R-Ohio), who won tough races in 2010 and 2012 with strong support from Boehner.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), a former House member and backer of Plan B, returned to his old chamber to try to gain the support of his Buckeye State Republicans. He later said he had been directed by GOP leaders to join the effort.
Several senior GOP aides said that many of the Republicans were wary of voting for Plan B because they worried it would lead to a primary challenge.
By Thursday afternoon, according to a GOP aide familiar with the whip count, it had become clear that the measure was doomed for failure.
Shortly after 7 p.m., GOP leaders abruptly adjourned the chamber and called an emergency meeting in the same Capitol basement room that they had huddled in Tuesday morning. It lasted less than 10 minutes, as leaders announced they did not have the votes and that the House would not return until after Christmas.
Kelly, who finally came around to supporting the plan, was incredulous, according to Republicans in the room. As others headed for the door, Kelly raced to the front of the room and grabbed the microphone.
“Really,” he screamed, according to Republicans. “We can’t support our speaker?”
Rosalind S. Helderman and Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.