John Boehner’s “press conference” on the fiscal cliff started at 12:15:00 p.m. At 12:15:11, he characterized the White House’s latest “cliff” offer as “$1.3 trillion of revenue to $850 billion in spending reductions,” which “fails to meet the test that the president offered the American people.” At 12:15:30, he said that Republicans would vote tomorrow to restore top tax rates on only the top $1 million of income, affecting 0.19 percent of taxpayers. Obama, said Boehner, could “call on the Senate Democrats to pass that bill, or he can be responsible for the largest tax increase in American history.” At 12:51:51, he was finished, walking away from microphones as reporters shouted “come back!”
The “Plan B” tax plan, which has been sold to Republicans for roughly 30 hours, does nothing to the cuts mandated by sequestration. It’s a gigantic punt, one with largely PR implications – blaming Democrats, not Republicans, for a standoff and a 2013 recession. Republicans are fairly, disturbingly confident that today’s polls are (to borrow a word) skewed, and that economic damage will be blamed on the president. As one Republican told me recently, voters would not look at a bad economy and call it the “House Republican recession.” They’d call it the Obama recession.
So, why is Boehner promising the vote tomorrow? Because it’s not clear that “Plan B” can pass. At 3 p.m., Tim Huelskamp and other House Republicans will appear at the National Press Club to denounce “Plan B.” Steny Hoyer, the Democratic whip, has promised to whip his conference against Plan B. If that holds, Republicans can only afford to lose 22 votes and narrowly pass the plan. (In the next Congress, they can only afford to lose 16 votes.) This is yet another bluff, one that suggests a real artery clog in “cliff” talks.