Boehner's Plan B failure may cost him his speakership
That rush of air you feel on your face is America going over the fiscal cliff.
In one of the most gruesome moments for a speaker of the House in recent history, John Boehner was forced to give up on getting a vote for his "Plan B" fiscal cliff proposal that would raise taxes on millionaires and cut virtually nothing from entitlements.
Beohner was hoping to put pressure on the White House to come to a deal more to the GOP's liking. Instead, his own caucus rejected him, castrated him, and tossed him to the wolves in what might be a sign that his speakership is in trouble.
The decision to break off negotiations with Obama and try to pass his alternative plan in the House was questionable to begin with. Senate Democrats promised not to take it up, and Obama promised a veto. As a statement that the GOP was serious about negotiations, it fell far short and would have done little to deflect blame from Republicans.
Clearly, Boehner was better off negotiating with the president rather than his own caucus. At least a failure with Obama wouldn't have made him seem like such a jellyfish. Now, after this performance at a closed door meeting with Republicans, it's hard to see Boehner as speaker in the next Congress.
Things were so bad for Speaker John Boehner Thursday night, support for his Plan B tax bill so diminished, the limits of his power with his own party laid bare, that he stood in front of the House Republican Conference and recited the Serenity Prayer.
"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."
Boehner nearly cried.
The Ohio Republican accepted that he couldn't change the minds of his House Republican Conference. He tried to convince them that, facing tough negotiations with President Barack Obama over the fiscal cliff, he needed them on his side - and he fell short. With that, Boehner - a man who has clawed back from the political ledge to arrive at the top rung of power - saw perhaps the lowest moment in his speakership.
It was supposed to be a moment of strength, a way to drag Obama and the Democrats toward them in the high-stakes fiscal cliff negotiations that have Washington teetering on the brink. Instead, it showed the world that either Boehner couldn't bring 217 of his own members to his side, or they were unwilling to be led by him in this fight.
Will there be a serious challenge to his speakership? Boehner in in a powerful position and crossing him by voting against his speakership is not done lightly. But the challenge doesn't have to defeat him, only deny him a majority of the House.
The failure of Plan B proved something important: Boehner doesn't have enough Republican support to pass any bill that increases taxes - even one meant to block a larger tax increase - without a significant number of Democrats. The House has now adjourned until after Christmas, but it's clear now what Plan C is going to have to be: Boehner is going to need to accept the simple reality that if he's to be a successful speaker, he's going to need to begin passing legislation with Democratic votes.
There's an asterisk there, though: It's not entirely clear whether Boehner will be the speaker of the House a month from today. The vote to elect the next speaker is on Jan. 3. To win, you need an absolute majority of the House, not a plurality. Even a hopeless conservative challenge that attracts only a handful of Republican votes could deny Boehner the speakership until a consensus candidate emerged. Tonight's vote makes that challenge more likely.
Obama has outmaneuvered Boehner at every turn; on taxes, on entitlement reform, on meaningful budget cuts. It is true that Boehner had a weak hand to play. The GOP had just lost an election and the country - if it said anything at all about what it wanted - preferred to raise taxes on those making more than $250,000 a year. Obama was willing to raise that number to $400,000, but there appears to be a very significant number of Republicans who don't want any tax increases at all, nor do they want Obama to get any credit for an agreement reached to avoid the tax increases and sequestration.
A speaker who can't carry his own caucus on the biggest issue facing Congress isn't much of a leader.
The House will now adjourn until next year - maybe. There's always a chance that negotiations with Obama could be renewed, although if Boehner thought that the president was tough before the Plan B debacle, he will be doubly so now.
It will take a while for the new Congress to get organized. Until it does, the budget cuts and tax increases will go into effect - a scenario that sets the GOP up to be the villain for a public that desperately wants a deal.
Where that will lead in 2014 and beyond is anyone's guess.