Deirdre Shesgreen reports:
Still reeling from an embarrassing GOP revolt against his back-up proposal to avert the fiscal cliff, John Boehner on Friday offered up a low-volume, no-frills assessment of his failure to muscle that “Plan B” through the House.
“Not the outcome that I wanted, but that was the will of the House,” the West Chester Republican and House Speaker told reporters at a news conference Friday morning, 14 hours after chaos erupted inside his House GOP conference.
Despite Boehner’s calm demeanor, this latest twist in the fiscal-cliff saga raises fresh questions about how effective the Ohio Republican’s leadership style is and how firm his grip on the Speaker’s gavel is.
After publicly saying he had the votes to pass legislation that would have allowed tax rates to go up on people who earn more than $1 million a year, Boehner had to yank the proposal at the last minute in the face of fierce resistance from conservatives.
The bill was never going to become law – it was aimed at strengthening Boehner’s hand in negotiations with President Barack Obama over how to avert the combination of tax hikes and spending cuts set to take effect at the beginning of January, which some economists say would throw the country back into a recession. But GOP hard-liners weren’t interested in bolstering Boehner if it meant voting for a tax hike.
Boehner shrugged off a suggestion on Friday that he should be worried about being ousted from the Speaker’s chair in the wake of Thursday’s GOP rebellion. He said opponents of his back-up tax plan were not lashing out at him.
“I don’t think they were taking that out on me,” he said. “They were dealing with the perception that somebody might accuse them of raising taxes.”
And Boehner’s allies say he will sail to a second term as speaker next month when the 113th Congress convenes.
“Are there a handful of people who don’t like John Boehner and would love to see him go? Sure,” said Pat Tiberi, R-Genoa Township. “And they’re very loud and they’re all over talk radio and they’re all over cable news.”
But the vast majority of House Republicans strongly support Boehner and any challenge to him would fall far short, Tiberi said.
“Despite the fact that people say he’s weakened internally, he’s stronger than ever,” Tiberi said. “John Boehner has no problem becoming Speaker on Jan. 3, period and end of story.”
NKY Republican: Boehner made us ‘props’
Not everyone is so sure.
Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., blasted Boehner and other GOP leaders for what he said was a botched plan to ram through a tax increase without taking the pulse of rank-and-file lawmakers.
“We’re not props in the negotiation between the Speaker and the president,” said Massie, who was sworn in after the election to fill the vacancy created by ex-Rep. Geoff Davis’ resignation last year.
Massie accused Boehner of “throwing his own conference under the bus,” and said: “Whoever his advisors are, they need to be fired.”
Asked if Boehner’s speakership was jeopardy after Thursday’s events, Massie paused and then said, “Um, I really don’t have an answer.”
There is little doubt that Boehner’s path forward is perilous: He can strike a deal with Obama and try to get it through the House with Democratic votes, which would further infuriate conservatives. Or, he can refuse to go back to the negotiating table and risk being blamed for letting the country fall off the fiscal cliff.
“He has to pick his poison,” said Larry Sabato, head of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “It’s really one or the other.”
If Boehner agrees to a debt-reduction plan that doesn’t win “yes” votes from more than 25 percent of his GOP conference, Sabato said, “many will see this as his swan song.” Boehner could count such a deal as a major accomplishment — part of his legacy — but he would almost certainly face a leadership challenge in 2014, he predicted.
‘This caucus is… ungovernable’
Boehner declined to offer any hints about his next move on Friday. He adamantly rebutted suggestions that he was walking away from talks with Obama, but he also refused to say whether he would be willing to rely on Democratic support to win passage of a debt-reduction deal. Instead, he argued that it was now up to the president and the Democratic Senate to avert a fiscal crisis.
Tiberi and others acknowledged that Boehner is in a weak negotiating position. And his style — which is more pragmatic consensus-builder than hard-line warrior — makes an already tough job even more difficult.
“Everybody knows he doesn’t have very many cards to play,” said John Feehery, who served as a top aide to former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. “The expectations are low for what Boehner can deliver.”
He said Boehner could use a “cutthroat vote counter” like former House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, the ex-Texas lawmaker who was known as the “Hammer” for his hard-edged tactics. “But in many ways it’s not (Boehner’s) style” to employ that kind of arm-twisting, Feehery said.
Still, Feehery and others said that Boehner is not vulnerable to a challenge, in part because no one else could do any better.
“You show me a single person who could make the House do anything other than dance to the tea party tune, and I’ll send you a nice holiday gift,” said Sabato. “This caucus, under these circumstances, is ungovernable.”
Tiberi didn’t go that far, but he conceded that Boehner’s options are limited by a handful of lawmakers who “typically are against anything we do.”
The reality, Tiberi said, is that “some of our members believe . . . we have been too accommodating, that we have tried too hard, that this isn’t our problem.”
Boehner has “a different view” and genuinely wants to get a deal, Tiberi said. And, he added, “his style is perfect for the moment.”