This is a leverage ploy, right? The House passes Plan B, Reid kills it in the Senate, and then Boehner gets to say, “We did what Democrats wanted by taxing millionaires and they still prefer to go over the cliff.” But … what if it doesn’t even pass the House? Then Democrats get to turn around and say that the GOP caucus won’t even agree to tax the rich when it’s their own Speaker asking them to do so. As of last night, per National Journal, GOP vote counters weren’t sure that Boehner had the votes. Grover Norquist did him a favor this morning by declaring that Plan B doesn’t violate Republicans’ no-tax pledge, and this’ll help too:
Paul Ryan says he's voting for Plan B #heygirl
— Ed Henry (@edhenry) December 19, 2012
Meanwhile, though, several prominent conservatives, including Rep. Tim Huelskamp, held a presser this afternoon to denounce Plan B. The Club for Growth, which has been known to spend big to defeat wayward Republicans in primaries, came out hard against the bill today, as did the lobbying arm of the Heritage Foundation. According to The Hill’s whip count, there are at least 10 House Republicans who are either leaning no or a firm no, which leaves Boehner with little margin for error if Pelosi holds her caucus together. The point here, of course, isn’t to get Obama to sign the bill, just to stick Reid with it and force Senate Democrats to defeat something from the House that would allow tax hikes on millionaires. Ideally, seeing the House line up behind Boehner would also spur Obama to up his offer on the income threshold for the new tax hikes. It’s a messaging and negotiating game, but a lot of Republicans are off-message. Even Orrin Hatch says he’d oppose the bill. At what point do the PR returns on this gambit diminish to the point where it’s no longer worth pursuing? Or have I underestimated Boehner in thinking that he’s not prepared to walk away from negotiations if/when the House does pass this thing and leave Democrats to either pass it themselves or go over the cliff?
Conn Carroll makes the case to reluctant conservatives that this is, alas, as good as it gets:
The other reality many conveniently forget to mention is that spending is also set to be cut by $1.2 trillion. Boehner’s Plan B leaves those very real spending cuts untouched. Any deal with Obama would start by undoing the scheduled $1.2 trillion in spending cuts. Already, that is $1.2 trillion in the direction of bloated government. Plus, any deal with Obama would include far greater tax hikes than Plan B would allow, at minimum about $600 billion more. That is a total of $1.8 trillion in bigger government. How could any Republican defend that vote to their conservative constituents? Plus Plan B doesn’t raise the debt limit either. Republicans can then use that to try and restructure the sequester into meaningful entitlement reform later this year.
So conservatives have a stark choice. They can vote for Boehner’s Plan B, thus preserving the $1.2 trillion in spending cuts, and cut America’s tax burden by some $4 trillion, or they can vote against the Boehner plan and allow the full $4.6 trillion tax hike to hit their constituents. There is no possible way a better deal will come out of Boehner’s negotiations with Obama.
On the other hand, if Beohner fails to pass Plan B this week, the conservative negotiating position will be completely compromised. It will be clear no deal with conservatives is possible in the House.
Ultimately the strategic argument is an argument over how you think most House Republicans would respond to public pressure to reach a deal if we go over the cliff. Dave Weigel hears from GOPers on the Hill that they think the president, not Congress, would be blamed for any recession that ensues. I’m skeptical. The media frame won’t be “the president vs. Congress,” it’ll be “Obama vs. the Republicans,” and Obama’s brand lately polls higher than the GOP’s. Obama has the bully pulpit too: If the fiscal cliff standoff dragged on deep into January, he’d have not one but two major speeches (his inaugural and the State of the Union) in which to rally the public against the Republican position. There may well be groups of conservatives out there who’d hold the line even in the teeth of that sort of messaging onslaught. The House GOP isn’t one of them.
Update: Victory through defeat?
Boehner and other GOP leaders believe that even if the measure fails, it will show President Obama that Republicans won’t vote for a “fiscal cliff” deal unless it includes significant spending cuts.
“[GOP leaders] are just now trying to come up with some raw numbers and then I’m sure there’ll be decisions after that but I think he’s going to go through with it regardless,” the lawmaker said. “It would show the president that he doesn’t even have the votes for [tax cuts] with no [spending] cuts.”
So the bet is that Obama will cave on spending rather than take us over the cliff and dare House Republicans to hold the line even as middle-class tax rates lurch upward? I’ll take that bet.