Behind the scenes: A breakdown of Boehner's miscalculation on Plan B
December 21st, 2012
10:13 AM ET
1 year ago

Behind the scenes: A breakdown of Boehner's miscalculation on Plan B

(CNN) – House Speaker John Boehner suffered a major political setback Thursday when he failed to garner enough votes to pass his back-up plan to a fiscal cliff deal, also known as "Plan B."

But what happened?

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Last weekend some of Boehner's big concessions-including an increase on tax rates for millionaires and an agreement to raise the debt limit–started to leak out, according to Republican sources. When Boehner came into his leadership meeting Monday morning, he got an earful from fellow Republicans, who said his strategy wasn't going to fly.

Late last week, GOP leaders had already started talking more seriously about a legislative path, so they decided why not take Plan B – raising taxes only on those making more than a million dollars a year – to the floor. The move also allowed Republicans to still protect most small businesses, which make less than $1 million a year. The fact that Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi had endorsed it two years ago made them think that it would be an easier sell than it was.

Boehner reminded GOP members that while he does not want tax rates to go up, the American people disagree. One source said Boehner was effectively trying to save Republicans from themselves and prevent them from being painted as they are today – so extreme that they won't even raise taxes on millionaires.

Boehner did, however, have a majority of Republicans on his side, but it wasn't enough without help from Democrats. A Democratic source said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer was successful at ensuring the few moderate Democrats didn't cross party lines.

Meanwhile, many more GOP members than anticipated by House Republican leaders started saying no to Plan B because they simply did not want to go on record supporting any tax increase, especially one that had no chance of passing. One source involved in whipping GOP votes said a number of undecided members fell into the "no" column when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid repeatedly made it clear he would not take up the bill. What's the point, many asked.

Apparently, by the time a vote to replace the sequester with spending cuts took place at about 6:30 p.m. ET Thursday night, GOP leaders already knew they were not likely to get the votes for Plan B. Conservative groups were working hard to make that vote close, an effort to show the leadership that Plan B had no chance of getting enough GOP votes.

By that time, the GOP leaders' scramble had morphed into panic.

At 7:45 p.m. ET, inside a hastily arranged GOP conference, Boehner opened the meeting with the serenity prayer. House GOP conferences, which are held in private, are always opened with the pledge and a prayer, but the prayer is usually done by a rank and file member. This time, it came from the House speaker.

Boehner then announced they are pulling the bill. Some boos, as well as some cheers, could be heard from outside the door. One of the cheers came from Rep. Alan Nunnelee of Mississippi, who had open heart surgery this week but came back for the vote to support the speaker, a source said.

Then–as everyone was about to leave-Rep. Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania grabbed the microphone and started berating the conference for failing the speaker, telling his colleagues they need to do this. He shouted to the back of the room to Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the GOP whip, asking how far away they are from the number of votes necessary to pass the bill.

McCarthy responded saying, "Mike, we're not going to get there."

The speaker chimed in and said there is nothing more we can do.

And then it was over.


Filed under: Fiscal Cliff • House • John Boehner
soundoff (46 Responses)
  1. rs

    What happened is a pretty easy assessment- the control of the GOP is now entirely externalized. It is the Heritage Foundation, and Grover Norquist that are pulling the strings, not the Speaker, and not the voters. Boehner cannot deliver (again) on anything he has agreed to with the President of the United States, and could not even deliver the votes for the randomized conservative wish list "Plan B" represented.

    Time to call out the National Guard and drag the GOP's sorry, lazy, useless backsides back to DC and lock them up until they come up with a plan.

    December 21, 2012 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  2. roro

    All I know is that Boehner, as hapless as he appears to be, is a far better alternative to the real threat here. That threat is Eric Cantor. This guy has been hungrily eyeing the Speakership for years, and has been a thorn in Boehner's side. Watch him when he's standing next to, or slightly behind Boehner. It's so obvious, he's almost salivating. Cantor is the one I'm afraid of, and so should the country if there's any hope of bipartisanship left.

    December 21, 2012 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  3. MeapersoninUS

    WELL the REALITY here is once again ONCE AGAIN the repuks have no plan what-so-ever to help America. They only plan to further run this country into the ground. American's really need to FIRE each and every repuk in Congress, this is the only way this country will get Congress to working again. VERY SAD!

    December 21, 2012 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  4. DaveC

    What more can you say? The circular firing squad of republicans continues. This thing has no chance of passing until after the first of the year when a lot of the tea party congressmen and women who were voted out of office are gone.

    December 21, 2012 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  5. chill

    Until both leaders are willing to accept a split delegation to get to a majority overall, this isn't going to happen. Speaker Hastertt started this crap about not bringing bills to the floor that a majority of his caucus oppsoed even if the majority of the House was in favor. Get the 98% on the floor and it will pass- cliff averted.

    December 21, 2012 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  6. Country Above Parties

    CNN most recent poll shows more than half the country see GOP as too extreme and represents a very small portions of the country. It is about time we redefine what G.O.P. stands for. Help me fill GOP is ...
    GOP = Grilled Overdone Potato
    GOP = Giant Obstructive Party

    December 21, 2012 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  7. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    Boehner is just a bad leader. Plain and simple. He's more concerned with keeping his job rather than making a deal.

    December 21, 2012 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  8. chilly g

    the gop is bad for america and this time the american peoples will win because the president is in the driver seat.

    December 21, 2012 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  9. drod

    The Republican party is being eaten alive by Tea Party types and Conservative purists that don't care about the country. Boehner might resign his post in total disgust. Cantor will come along and complete the distruction of the party.

    December 21, 2012 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  10. cgire

    I agree with roro – Cantor is the real danger to the country. Hard-right Republicans believe that Cantor will never give in on anything to Obama and the Democrats. They believe that Cantor and the tea party cohort are unable to conceive of a solution that does not exactly match their view of tiny-government America. I think they are right.

    Which means that the "full faith and credit of the United States" will go flushing down the tubes in coming months as we dive off the "fiscal cliff" and accelerate toward the greatest Depression in the past 150 years.

    So, the Conservatives will win. We'll definitely have a smaller government. And we will have a much smaller economy as well.

    December 21, 2012 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  11. TM

    Mr Boehner forgot, or perhaps never learned, that there is a DIFFERENCE between being the head of his political party in the House, and being Speaker of the House. He has absolutely FAILED at making the House of Representatives a functional part of our government. Of course, if he ends up being voted out as Speaker in the next session his likely replacement, Eric Cantor, knows even LESS about the job.

    December 21, 2012 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  12. Sueb

    So the republicans in Congress have proven that they are more radical than Grover Norquist....Here's a Plan C for you, Mr. Boehner, negotiate with the President and come up with a deal that you can get 15 republicans to vote for and let the democrats put it over the top.....you know - try working FOR the American people and not the uber-rich!

    December 21, 2012 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  13. Lynda/Minnesota

    "But what happened?"

    Easy. This first time John Boehner yelled his infamous "hell-no" he obtained adoration status. The second John Boehner "hell-no" gained him the best thing next to a TeaParty coronation America will ever see.

    And then? Well, as with everything else, it all came back to bite him. Big Time. By those very TeaPartiers he so adored.

    December 21, 2012 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  14. buspart

    Its very clear that we lack leadership in GOP. What a shame that a party of intellects is bankrupt! Lets outsource our Congress to India and China and get things done

    December 21, 2012 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  15. NickAnast

    Worst Speaker ever. Period.

    This, of course, is really good news for Dems and the USA. Once we go over the cliff, it will be very easy to get these Tea Party nutjobs to vote for a tax CUT for the 98% of Americans who make less than $250,000/$200,000 per year. And we won't have to worry about Medicare or Social Security cuts.

    December 21, 2012 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  16. buspart

    Boehner – History would remember him as a total failure with no leadership skills and the one who drove the country to recession

    December 21, 2012 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  17. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    I think that it was endorsed by Democratic members of the House and Senate likely gave it the kiss of death to various member of the GOP.

    December 21, 2012 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  18. Powerbiker

    Really sad state of affairs in America. So sad!!!

    December 21, 2012 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  19. conniesz

    Moderate Republicans and Democrats of all stripes can ensure that Boehner remains speaker. The entire house elects the speaker, not just the majority party. A Republican with minimal support in his own party but total support of the Democrats could easily win election. It would be a tough call for many but I believe there are still some (perhaps enough) Republicans who would put country before party to ensure a House of Representatives that is actually functioning in our government rather than just acting as sand in the gears.

    December 21, 2012 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  20. iliab

    Our political system is not working. It needs to be fixed. But our political system is not working…

    December 21, 2012 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  21. Randy, San Francisco

    The rebranding of the GOP/Tea Party is going well. The party is still dysfunctional because of extremist Tea Party ideologues and social conservatives. The fiscal battle validates what a majority of Americans believe; the GOP/Tea Party fights for millionaires and billionaires at the expense of the middle class, seniors, women, minorities, and poor.

    December 21, 2012 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  22. The Real Tom Paine

    He reminds me of a fish stranded on a beach, gasping for air in vain. The tidal wave that made him Speaker has now stranded him, and they don't give a damn about him or the country, only about a series of pledges that will wreck the country.

    December 21, 2012 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  23. RINO Bill

    The next Speaker of the House will be Eric Cantor and he will be far WORSE than Boehner. Cantor is EVIL, Boehner was merely out of his league.

    December 21, 2012 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  24. Jack

    These guys couldn't pass a dog license bill. What you really have are a bunch of anti-governmentm, out of control extremists who have highjacked the party. They don't understand how a republic works. They don't understand the basics of democracy and how compromise is the key to governing. I blame the GOP leadership for letting these nutters into the party. It was shortsighted and now they are paying the consquences. In recent past this never would have happened. The idea of a party is to have cohesion and a leadership to foster compromise.

    December 21, 2012 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  25. Sniffit

    "But what happened?"

    Conservatives are dillholes.

    Next question.

    December 21, 2012 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
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