Fiscal cliff: Does Boehner have the votes? Update: Boehner vs. Cantor? Update: Boehner to vote yes? Report: House has majority for Senate bill; Update: Bill passes, 257-167

I can’t believe this is what we’re doing on our holiday.

Well said, but don’t forget the punchline: Because the Bush tax cuts will be extended for most earners with next to nothing in offsetting spending cuts, the “deficit reduction deal” technically increases the deficit by nearly $4 trillion over the next decade. Bill Kristol, urging the House to vote yes in the interest of avoiding sequester defense cuts, aptly describes it as a “mess”:

The fiscal cliff deal that the Senate passed early this morning is ridiculous in too many ways to count. There seem to be no figures from the Congressional Budget Office and only “very preliminary” figures from the Joint Tax Committee about the real spending and revenue implications. The two month delay of the sequester will make actual governance even more difficult (how is the Pentagon supposed to plan for the rest of the year?). The sequester delay is funded by a gimmick with retirement savings tax rules that is a caricature of what has become of Washington legislation and policy making. Working Americans making less than $400,000 will be shocked when they find that, contrary to promises from both parties, their taxes are in fact going up (the payroll tax). And we will face another cliff when we hit the debt ceiling and the sequester again in two months.

The deal is a sad commentary on our politics today.

Actually, we face two more cliffs, first the sequester/debt ceiling standoff and then another over the next budget continuing resolution. If you’re serious about fiscal sustainability, the stakes couldn’t be lower. To the extent today’s House vote is interesting, it’s interesting as a type of bread-and-circus: Whether they pass the Senate bill today or pass a marginally less dismal deal in a week or two, the only thing that’s interesting about any of this is the facile political suspense of whether Boehner can muster enough Republican votes, whether Biden can keep Pelosi and House Democrats in line, and what it all means for the next zero-stakes confrontation between Obama and the GOP a few months from now. Ultimately, I think The One is the only player here who had appropriate contempt for the process. He knew nothing important would be achieved so he focused on tax hikes to try to diminish the opposition by driving a wedge in their caucus. In the end, he gave a little on the income threshold in exchange for fracturing House Republicans. Not a bad trade short-term.

Anyway. Does Boehner have the votes? Quite possibly, says the Hill:

To assess party loyalty, The Hill analyzed five controversial bills on fiscal matters that sparked outcry from factions on the right and significant defections from House GOP members: a March 15, 2011 stopgap funding bill; an April 14, 2011 bill that averted a government shutdown; an Aug. 1 roll call on the Budget Control Act; a Nov. 17, 2011 “minibus” appropriations measure; and a Feb. 17, 2012 vote to extend the payroll tax holiday. Republican defections ranged from 54 to 101 on these bills.

Despite the GOP infighting, 92 House Republicans didn’t buck leadership on any on of those measures. This group includes leadership lawmakers, committee and subcommittee chairmen and a surprising number of freshman members. Some of Boehner’s loyal legislators include GOP Reps. Cole, Steven LaTourette (Ohio), Pete King (N.Y.), Darrell Issa (Calif.), Gary Miller (Calif.), Tom Marino (Pa.), Jon Runyan (N.J.) and Steve Stivers (Ohio)…

There are an additional 51 House Republicans who broke ranks on only one of the five votes reviewed by The Hill, including GOP Reps. Bob Goodlatte (Va.), Jeb Hensarling (Texas), Tom Latham (Iowa), Steve Scalise (La.) and Frank Wolf (Va.).

That’s 143 gettable votes. Even if he lost 22 of those, he’d still have enough left over to keep his promise not to bring something to the floor that isn’t supported by a majority of House Republicans. The intrigue will come if he’s close to the magic number but not quite there. In that case, he’ll have to choose: Does he bring the bill to the floor anyway, risking a revolt in Thursday’s Speaker election, or does he torpedo the bill even though it likely will have majority support among the entire House? The GOP caucus is meeting as I write this to sound out its members, but reportedly they’re planning to have at least one more meeting today before making a decision on whether to vote. Are you not entertained?

Here’s Tom Cole, a Boehner loyalist, telling MSNBC he’ll definitely vote for the bill. He predicted this morning that a majority of House Republicans will vote yes as well. One other subplot to watch out for: How will Paul Ryan vote? He backed Boehner on Plan B, but with Rubio having voted no last night, the anti-tax ante for 2016 contenders has been upped. Ryan’s dilemma is that he wields much more influence over his caucus colleagues than Rubio does over his, so if he peels off, he could take enough with him to jeopardize the bill. Exit question: Democrats are crowing this morning that, having forced the GOP to accept new tax hikes now, it’ll be easier to make them do so again during the debt-ceiling negotiations. Is that true or will it actually be harder next time after Republicans face a backlash from their base and insist that they already checked the tax box back during the fiscal-cliff compromise?

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Update: Hmmmmmmmmmm.

Update: Sure sounds like we’re not going to have a vote today.

Update: More from Politico:

An overwhelming number of House Republicans in a party meeting Tuesday are calling on their leadership to amend the Senate’s bill to avert the fiscal cliff and send it back to the upper chamber, according to several sources in the meeting…

There is also some regret among Republicans about the party defeating Speaker John Boehner’s “Plan B” before the holidays, which would have raised taxes on millionaires, whereas the bill the Senate passed around 2 a.m. New Year’s Day raises taxes on households making more than $450,000…

Emerging as a stick point among House Republicans is how McConnell and Biden delayed the sequester — automatic spending cuts. The two-month delay is being viewed by House Republicans as inadequate in that it doesn’t reduce spending immediately.

Hope they’re ready for the backlash tomorrow when markets open way down and our fair and balanced press corps gets back to work.

Update: At least we’re getting our money’s worth of political suspense from this ridiculous charade.

If Boehner brings the bill to the floor over Cantor’s opposition, does that guarantee a “Boehner vs. Cantor” election for Speaker on Thursday?

Update: A few commenters are grumbling about my backlash point above. Fact: There will be a backlash tomorrow if this doesn’t pass. It is what it is. And that’s fine — it’s worth driving a hard bargain to get something important done, even at the price of a backlash. Just remind me again what “important” goal will be achieved by forcing a new round of negotiations. What sort of spending cuts do you expect to see here? A trillion dollars over 10 years when we’re running trillion-dollar deficits annually? Even if they got Obama to agree to that, why would you believe that future Congresses would allow those cuts to happen down the line? This entire process is an elaborate charade designed to postpone the ultimate reckoning on entitlement reform, and you’re simply not going to wring serious entitlement reform out of the Democrats given the two parties’ current postures. Obama just won reelection; the Democrats expanded their numbers in the House and Senate; entitlement reform remains depressingly unpopular among the public despite attempts to educate them about the role mandatory spending plays in driving the national debt. House Republicans aren’t going to hold out for weeks on end in the futile hope of revamping Medicare against that backdrop while middle-class voters stew over their new, higher tax brackets. Why risk some of the GOP’s small reserve of political capital on a deal that’s only negligibly less terrible than this one? I understand the “let it burn” strategy, to force the public to fully absorb the cost of big government. I don’t understand this one.

A quote from Philip Klein: “There’s a lot to hate in this deal, no doubt. But any honest assessment of it must grapple with the reality of Obama as president, Harry Reid as Senate Majority Leader and $4.5 trillion in automatic tax hikes hitting in the new year. With this in mind, I’d rate the deal as objectively bad, but relatively good.”

Update: House Republicans weigh the backlash factor.

Update: If this is true, Boehner’s goal of 120+ Republican votes seems impossible:

Update: And now some pressure on Boehner from the left as a Democratic aide warns that the Senate bill is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition:

“The House Republicans have two choices: cut their losses and pass the deal now, or else put up a fight they cannot win and pass the same deal a few days now after being further humiliated,” said a Senate Democratic leadership aide.

Another senior Democratic aide said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will not reconsider the bill, which passed by a vote of 89 to 8.

“We’re done,” said the aide.

Update: The word on Twitter is that the GOP caucus will huddle at 5:15 ET. Possible outcomes: Boehner has the votes for the Senate plan and brings it to the floor to try to pass it; Boehner *doesn’t* have the votes but brings it to the floor so that House Republicans can add amendments related to spending cuts; Boehner refuses to bring it to the floor. The first outcome seems unlikely and the third would suffer from terrible optics, so expect JB to choose what’s behind door number two.

Update: Good question.

Update: Sounds like Boehner’s going to give the Senate bill a shot — maybe.

In other words, for the Senate bill to come to the floor, something like 15 Republicans have to oppose amending the bill to include spending cuts. Are there 15 in the entire caucus willing to go on record and do that, even if they’re doing it in the interest of trying to pass the Senate bill now and avert fiscal-cliff aftershocks tomorrow?

Update: The strategy here, I assume, is to use the prospective failure of the amended bill to prove to Republicans that nothing except the Senate bill can pass the House. If they can’t get 218 among their own caucus to support extending the negotiations by demanding cuts, then maybe some GOPers who dislike the Senate bill will hold their noses and vote for it.

Update: Yep, sure sounds like that’s what Boehner has in mind. He’s trying to get the Senate bill through:

Update: A Senate Democratic leadership aide reiterates that a vote to amend the bill in the House is effectively a vote to kill the Senate bill. There’ll be no more fiscal cliff action until the new Congress is seated on Thursday. Quote: “The aide added that House Republicans should not have stepped away from White House negotiations if they needed spending reductions to get the deal.”

Update: DrewM wonders if the spending-cuts amendment might fail simply because some critical mass of conservatives refuses to vote for any bill that doesn’t extend the Bush tax cuts for everyone. In other words, they’ll vote no even on an amended bill because it lets taxes go up on earners who make $450K. The amount of spending cuts attached will be irrelevant. If that’s what they end up doing, it’ll be an awfully dangerous gamble. Once the amended bill fails, you’ll see 100+ Democratic votes flood in for the unamended Senate bill; conceivably you could see nearly the entire Dem caucus vote yes, which means it would take only 40-50 Republicans to vote with them to pass the Biden/McConnell bill with zero cuts. (One of the earlier updates above suggested that that might be feasible.) What that would mean for Boehner’s Speakership, given that he’ll have violated the “majority of the majority” rule to pass it, I don’t know.

Another possibility: What if the amended bill fails and then the up-or-down vote on the Senate bill fails too? After the failure of Plan B and then the failure of two compromise bills, the narrative tomorrow will be that virtually nothing can pass the House.

Update: Sounds like an up-or-down vote might be coming:

Update: Wow. First time I’ve heard this all day:

Update: Just to underscore my point earlier about what a farce this all is, here’s what the House is mulling as their big counteroffer to the Senate on spending:

If there are enough GOP votes to pass the first approach, the House would amend the fiscal cliff bill and send it back to the Senate, the aide said. A second senior GOP leadership aide said that leaders were mulling adding $300 billion in spending cuts to the bill. Details of those cuts weren’t yet available.

That’s $300 billion over 10 years, I take it, or $30 billion annually. Now, go look at this graphic at Zero Hedge and see for yourself how much $30 billion is relative to the annual deficits we’re running these days. This “spending cuts” proposal is a face-saving gesture by the GOP, nothing more. And it still might not pass their own caucus.

Update: Robert Costa says the spending-cuts amendment is in deep trouble:

Can Pelosi deliver 150-170 Democrats? That’s a tall order even for her.

Update: According to GOP Rep. Tim Murphy, the House will vote on the Senate bill sometime tonight. Apparently they couldn’t find 218 Republicans willing to vote for the bill even with a few hundred billion in spending cuts tacked on as an amendment.

Update: I’m honestly shocked:

Remember, the Speaker typically doesn’t vote on bills. He’ll get enough flak from conservative groups if this thing passes with less than a Republican majority that you’d think he wouldn’t want to double down by lending his own vote to the compromise, especially with Cantor publicly opposed to the bill. Either he’s supremely confident that there aren’t 17 Republicans in the caucus willing to block his election as Speaker on Thursday or he’s reached the point where he doesn’t care if they do.

Update: Robert Costa says Boehner’s confident he has 218 from the full House for the Senate bill:

Chuck Todd hears that the vote may come at around 9:30 ET.

Update: Hmmmm:

Update: A footnote from Robert Costa: Allegedly, Boehner will vote only if his vote is needed to get to 218.

Update: The word on Twitter is that the final vote will come at around 11:15 p.m. ET. If you’re sticking around for the end of this charade, you’re a more diligent political junkie than me.

Update: At 11 p.m. ET, it’s a done deal. 257-167, with Democrats providing most of the votes. The Dems split 172-16, Republicans split 85-151. Boehner didn’t come close to satisfying the “majority of the majority” rule, which leaves him on thin ice for Thursday’s Speaker vote. At least he didn’t hide, though: He voted yes tonight, as did Paul Ryan, much to Team Rubio’s delight. Meanwhile, the rest of the leadership team — i.e. Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy — voted no, although Cantor waited until the bill had 218 votes to register his meaningless disapproval.

Hard to believe we might have the same leadership in the next Congress as we did for this process, but then not long ago it was also hard to believe we’d have the same leadership in the White House and the Senate in 2013 as we had in 2012. And yet here we are.