At 5:15 p.m., House Republicans were to meet to decide what to do: Pass the Senate “fiscal cliff” package or do something else. The something else in this case presumably would be adding spending cuts, but, in fact, that would end the negotiating process, given that many in the Senate have left town and those who haven’t are in no mood to respond to the House. House Republicans are convinced (for good reason) that Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would prefer to go over the cliff and blame the GOP; refusing to pass the only bill on the table would accomplish that.
In the conference meeting today, House Republicans recoiled at the absence of spending cuts. Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) was noticeably upset and loudly expressed opposition to the deal. In fact, the package has $12 billion in spending cuts as part of the two-month delay in the sequester. Moreover, I fail to see how legislators prepared to pass a gargantuan Sandy relief bill can claim to be upset over the lack of fiscal discipline.
The House has only itself to blame for the current state of affairs. It undercut its own speaker and took him out of the mix by nixing the $1 million threshold for the re-imposition of the Clinton tax cuts. Now members don’t like the result of their handiwork. And if the Senate doesn’t pass a House version, what then? The House Republicans seem incapable of seeing two moves ahead.
There are a number of ways the House Republicans can save face. They can pass two measures (their own fiscal cliff measure and the Senate bill). They can reduce the spending in the Sandy relief bill. They can pass a parallel bill that deals with the remainder of the sequester. There are logical and savvy ways out of the corner in which they have painted themselves. If they don’t find an escape route, the economic and political fallout may be severe, deservedly so. A group of lawmakers who can’t make laws doesn’t warrant majority status. If they can’t govern, they should get out of the way, which the voters in 2014 may readily agree to help them do.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is justified in being frustrated. And should the House reject the Senate bill, he should seriously consider resigning as speaker. If he can’t lead the House in a principled fashion, he should let the all-or-nothing crowd fend for itself.