Call me an irrational optimist, but until December 20 I still held onto some glimmer of hope that some agreement could be reached between the president and Congress to avoid all the consequences of the looming fiscal cliff. I am not irrational enough to have ever believed that a complete plan could be legislated before the end of the year, but I did believe there was at least some hope of an agreement being reached, which could act as a guide forward.
That last glimmer, however, disappeared on December 20, the day that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor reported to Speaker John Boehner that the necessary votes to pass Boehner’s “Plan B” were not there.
Several days earlier, Speaker Boehner had publicized his Plan B, which was to ask Congress to approve a measure that would have increased tax rates for those earning over $1 million per year, while leaving the current Bush era tax cuts in effect for all others. It was Boehner’s intention to implement Plan B in the event that he and President Obama could come to no agreement of how to move forward to avoid the cliff.
When the plan was made public, I thought it was a smart tactical move on the speaker’s part. Not that I believed it to be in the best interest of the nation, but I simply believed it to be a smart political tactic on his part. From Speaker Boehner’s perspective, there was little or no down side to his plan.
If the House passed his proposal and the Senate rejected it, which it almost certainly would, he could blame the Senate Democrats for increasing everyone’s taxes. If the House passed the proposal and the Senate, in an unlikely circumstance, felt pressured enough to pass it, it would land on President Obama’s desk, where it was likely to be vetoed, and the president could be made out to be the bad guy. In another scenario, the president could have felt pressured enough to sign the bill into law, thereby establishing Speaker Boehner as the hero of the American taxpayer.
The scenario for Plan B for which the speaker apparently didn’t plan, however, was one in which he couldn’t even gain the support of his own Republican caucus in the House of Representatives. Plan B backfired, and Boehner has been left with little, if any, appreciable negotiating power. The momentum seems to be shifting back to President Obama.
At this point, President Obama appears to be in the position of least risk in holding out for what he believes will be the most reasonable outcome from any negotiation. He doesn’t have to face reelection, while Speaker Boehner and the rest of the Republican House caucus do.
If the president can convince the American public that the reason their taxes increased is because a compromise couldn’t be reached with the obstructionist Republicans in the House of Representatives, he can preserve his own political capital. Additionally, if he is convincing enough, voters might even decide to replace those obstructionists in the 2014 elections, and if all really goes well for the president, he might have a Democrat controlled House of Representatives with which to deal for his final two years in office.
When Plan B backfired, the last glimmer of hope I held that we might avoid the fiscal cliff disappeared, and it now appears we should prepare for the fall. I just hope the landing isn’t too rough. After all, it isn’t the fall that kills you, it’s the hard landing.
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