After failing to muster enough Republican support on a deal to avert the "fiscal cliff," House Speaker John Boehner shuttered the House of Representatives until after Christmas. An atmosphere of desperation and confusion spread through Washington as the day wore on, and the Washington Post reports that Boehner began an emergency meeting in his office around 7 a.m. with 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 futilely beseeched the unjust God who put him in charge. Soon after, he issued a terse statement saying there would be no vote on the compromise.
The proposal, dubbed "Plan B" with apparently no sense of irony, was described as tax cuts but it would have allowed income taxes on millionaires to rise by an estimated $300 billion over the next decade, compared with current law. It would have spared most people the automatic tax increases that will begin next year if no action is taken. (Not only that; in New York State, for instance, an estimated 200,000 unemployed people will lose their unemployment benefits if Congress fails to act.) Over $500 billion in automatic tax increases and spending cuts will automatically go into effect on January 1st.
But Boehner could not rally enough support in the Republican-controlled House to pass Plan B. Many conservatives refuse to vote for any alternative that includes tax increases. “The Republicans are in an untenable situation,” Representative Dan Burton of Indiana told the Post. “If we don’t do anything, we go over the fiscal cliff. And then the president will come back . . . and if the economy goes to hell, he’s going to say it was the Republicans’ fault.” One Republican analyst said, "The national GOP is now simply a collection of warring tribal factions."
During a brief press conference on his way out of town, Boehner passed the buck to the Senate, telling reporters, "Now it is up to the president to work with Senator Reid on legislation to avert the fiscal cliff." Earlier in the day he blamed Democrats and President Obama for failing to offer spending cut concessions that conservatives demand in exchange for any tax increases. "I did my part. They've done nothing," Boehner declared. "Frankly, I'm convinced that the president is unwilling to stand up to his own party on the big issues that face our country."
The Daily Beast called Boehner's failure "a symbol of the sickness in our politics: a dogged dealmaker like Boehner is left stranded in the center, while irresponsible ideological activists in his own party encourage insurrection. It’s a no-win situation for the nation because his potential successors—Eric Cantor and Jeb Henserling—would be even less likely to try and make a deal with the Obama White House." And the Times describes yesterday as "stunning turn of events" and a "Republican implosion." Further:
Just days before more than a half trillion dollars in tax increases and spending cuts kick in, a chasm now separates Congressional Republicans from the president, even though the latest deficit offers from the White House and speaker are numerically very close. With his own plan defeated, Mr. Boehner faces a grave decision. A deal with Mr. Obama would almost certainly lose a huge swath of his Republican conference, but it could pass with Democratic support. Does he make such a deal and risk a Republican revolt, or do leaders allow the nation to head into an economic situation that some say could cause a recession?
The answer to that question will have to wait until after Christmas. As Representative Rick Larsen put it, "The Republicans just picked up their toys and went home."