Explaining Plan B
By John Feehery
It’s Barack Obama’s fault.
I know that seems reflexively partisan, but the reality is that John Boehner and Barack Obama haven’t built up enough trust to actually conclude a deal to forestall the fiscal cliff.
This comes as no surprise. Boehner and Obama couldn’t do it during the debt limit fiasco last year, so I don’t know why they thought they could do it this time around.
John Boehner is a skilled negotiator. He is done this hundreds of times. He did it when he was Chairman of House Education and Labor Committee, when he worked with Ted Kennedy to pass No Child Left Behind and other landmark pieces of legislation.
He did it when he was Minority Leader and he does it every day when he is Speaker. His caucus is so fractious that just getting a motion to adjourn approved takes negotiation.
But Boehner couldn’t conclude a deal with President Obama, who is not really known to be negotiator. Obama is a speechmaker, an idea guy, a thinker of big thoughts and a successful author. He is not really a negotiator though.
And when the predictable happened, Boehner needed to turn to Plan B.
Plan B served several valuable purposes for the Speaker.
- First, it was a vote-counting exercise. He could figure out where his votes really were on a variety of different options. Nothing really focuses the mind more than the actual urgency of a pending vote. He discovered — much to his chagrin — that he didn’t have to the votes to do much of anything. But even that discovery process yielded something.
- Second, it was an educational process, especially for his more reluctant colleagues. They now have to confront the fact that taxes are going to go up for everybody, automatically. There seems to be some confusion here among the right-wing of the party. They don’t seem to understand the law. They think that a vote to stop some of the tax increases is a vote to raise taxes. Well, no, it isn’t. A vote to stop some of the tax increases is by definition a tax cut, not a tax increases.
- Third, it helped to check off an option for Boehner, whether it passed or it didn’t. Plan B was never going to become law. But had Boehner not done Plan B, his critics would have always second-guessed him as to why he didn’t push his own plan through the House. Well, now we know. He tried and he couldn’t get the votes.
And now, the spotlight turns to Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell. They will be ones that have to get something through the Senate and pass it on to the House for ratification.
I am pretty skeptical that this can get done before the New Year. And in the New Year, this all becomes a bit easier because then the debate over whether the Congress is increasing taxes or cutting taxes ceases to be a debate.
My guess is we are going over the cliff for a little while. Plan B was never going to be the final product. It was always just a step in the process. Now that it is over, the Senate can get to the real deal cutting.