After Boehner’s Plan B, crafting a new plan for Republicans

December 21, 2012

House Speaker John Boehner has struggled for weeks to unite his fellow Republicans around a deal to avert the fiscal cliff. Having failed to find a package of tax increases and spending cuts acceptable to the Obama administration and the House GOP, he pivoted to a politically shrewd “Plan B” that would have extended all of the Bush-era tax cuts except for the high-income rate reductions that applied to income above a $1 million threshold. But as Boehner and his lieutenants worked to rally support, they found that they didn’t have the votes to pass “Plan B.” And so Boehner has suffered what is widely regarded as a humiliating defeat, one that has left many observers wondering whether he can survive for long as speaker.

Whether or not Boehner manages to regain his standing with House Republicans, his defeat raises a number of more significant questions about where Republicans should go from here.

Until the next presidential election, Boehner and the House Republicans are the face of the GOP. There are, to be sure, a number of talented Republican governors, yet most of them are either deeply engaged with issues close to home or too obscure or low-wattage to have much of a national impact. All but a handful of House Republicans represent constituencies with substantial Republican majorities, thanks in no small part to the influence of Republican state legislators in drawing district boundaries. The GOP is thus likely to hold the House for years to come, even if Hillary Clinton wins the White House come 2016. Like it or not, conservatives need the House GOP to get its act together sooner rather than later. But how?

The first question is whether Republicans are right to oppose President Barack Obama at every turn. Very early in 2009, a number of House Republicans, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, were resigned to the notion that they would have to cooperate with President Obama given the size of his mandate. But the fight over the fiscal stimulus law stiffened the resolve of conservatives, who were convinced that the president had failed to argue in good faith. The president’s allies see this differently, of course. Many on the left believe that the House GOP was intransigent from the start. Another view, however, is that if the Obama administration had embraced substantial increases in defense procurement as part of the stimulus law, a large number of Republicans would have defected, giving the president a significant bipartisan victory. Regardless, distrust between the House GOP and the Obama White House ran deep, and it was exacerbated by the growing assertiveness of grassroots conservative activists and the debate over health system reform.

The expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts might represent an opportunity for a reset. One of the virtues of “Plan B” is that it was identical to a proposal that had been advanced by Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) last year, and so it could be characterized as bipartisan in inspiration. Moreover, it represented a concession to the political reality that a large majority of American voters favor tax increases on high-earners. But as Boehner’s GOP opponents understood, “Plan B” also represented an implicit endorsement of a tax increase. Expiration effectively means that Republicans can start with a clean slate, albeit at a higher tax rate.

By letting the clock run out on Bush tax cuts, Republicans will not have voted for a tax increase, and they will be in a position to do something about the automatic tax increase to come. In the short term, House Republicans could extend an olive-branch to the Obama White House by proposing a large “tax-reform refund,” like that proposed by President Obama’s former budget director Peter Orszag. All wage-earners and Social Security beneficiaries would receive a substantial payment designed to offset the economic impact of the fiscal cliff. Meanwhile, Republicans could devote themselves to crafting an attractive tax reform package that would raise somewhat more revenue than the Bush-era tax code but far less than the post-cliff tax code.

And as Republicans rethink the tax code, they should keep in mind the need to advance larger conservative goals. Last week, we discussed a number of tax reforms that would encourage spending restraint at the state and local level, encourage donations to religious institutions, and protect the interests of middle-income homeowners while effectively shifting the tax burden to high-income voters living in high-tax, high-cost jurisdictions. Going further, the GOP might endorse a greatly expanded child tax credit as a way to recognize the enormous human capital investments parents make in their children. Taken together, this would represent a compelling, affirmative agenda that would break House Republicans out of the box of doing little more than just saying no.

PHOTO: U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) (R) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) speak to the media on the “fiscal cliff” on Capitol Hill in Washington, December 21, 2012. Boehner said on Friday that congressional leaders and President Barack Obama must try to move on from House Republicans’ failed tax plan and work together to resolve the looming U.S. “fiscal cliff.” 


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What’s going on with Boehner and the “fiscal cliff” fiasco is that we are seeing the Republican party as a marionette whose strings are being operated by financial donors whose identities are not known the general public. The modern Republican party is made up of legislators who have made Faustian bargains with a few, extremely demanding financial donors. Apparently, the penalties available against the legislator who does not fulfill his or her part of the bargain are quite severe; otherwise, there would be room to compromise. One has to wonder how strongly the smoke-filled room reeks of sulphur.

Posted by Bob9999 | Report as abusive

If the GOP can retain a majority in the House in the next elections in 2 years, either they will have radically changed their approach to include compromise, or the country will really be in a much worse place than today.

I’m hoping Americans won’t let that happen again. A few dozen extreme right-wing radicals are pulling the country into the ditch.

Posted by LoveJoyOne | Report as abusive

The criticism of Republicans or Right wing radicals as “pulling the country into the ditch” seems to ignore 16 Trillion of debt. . .not caused by lower taxes but higher mind boggling spending. .

All approved by Dems and Republicans. . .

I sense that those who do not pay any taxes or few taxes. . . wish to have those who already pay the most. . . and at a higher rate. . . pay more.

Their purpose so even more can continue to be given to those who don’t. . . more unemployment compensation. . .more food stamps. . .more free health care. . . I do see and fear the ditch. . .but seems the car headed to it is driven by left wing liberals.. .

Posted by der33 | Report as abusive

I really believe it is a combination of incompetence.
Republican have to give on taxes and Democrats have to give no expenses. There is no other solution.

Saving face would be easy if marionettes cut the strings. In reality this shows how really weak and pointless our political system has become. Answer only to the donors.

Leadership had died American politics.

Posted by Butch_from_PA | Report as abusive

Who cares if the GOP is better off letting the tax cuts expire? We should be worried about the country as a whole.

Posted by borisjimbo | Report as abusive

The truth is, US politics is full of clowns and puppets.

I don’t think more that a handful of congressmen and senators really care about the country as a whole. They are all caught up in the politics of re-election, power brokering and showing their backsides to the ones who are financing their campaigns.

Posted by LoveJoyOne | Report as abusive

Sorry, but i think that is not going to happen.
Not with the conservatives that belong to strong republican districts. Their goal is to bring down the US government, something the USSR was not able to do.

Posted by ofilha | Report as abusive

Are you sure that the Republican House majority is a lock. I just did a quick look at the voting results in a races to watch chart. It seems there are Republican won seats where less than 300,000 votes were cast and races where the winners won by less that 4% . I wonder if these seats should be counted as ‘sure things’ for the next election. A better turn out coupled with Democratic activism might make a difference especially if the Republican Party fails to field candidates that appeal to all voters. Washington State’s 1st district was set up to be a swing district, but the Democratic candidate won because the Republican was seen as extreme. If the voters who set out this election voted in the next round of elections could research support 17 new democratic seats?

Posted by Stanley7746 | Report as abusive

To me the beauty of the cliff is that Republicans have already approved tax increases and spending cuts. So have the Democrats and the president. Both revenue and spending elements have already been decided by Congress and the President in the Budget Control Act of 2011, and earlier, the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 and the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003. We don’t need to do anything; just let the stipulations of these three duly-approved Congressional Acts occur.

Posted by justine1939 | Report as abusive