House Republicans’ “Plan B” to avert the “fiscal cliff” came crashing down Thursday night after party leaders realized they didn’t have the votes to pass it, and pulled it from the floor — leaving the country poised on the edge of massive tax increases and spending cuts.
House lawmakers are now headed home for Christmas, though they vowed to return if there is any progress on talks.
But the collapse is a serious blow to House Speaker John A. Boehner, who had hoped to gain leverage in his negotiations with President Obama, and it signals that conservative Republicans are unwilling to stomach any rise in marginal income-tax rates — even on those making more than $1 million, which was Mr. Boehner’s plan.
“The House did not take up the tax measure today because it did not have sufficient support from our members to pass,” Mr. Boehner said in a statement. “Now it is up to the president to work with [Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat] on legislation to avert the fiscal cliff.”
But the White House signaled a willingness to move forward together after Mr. Boehner’s failure.
“The president’s main priority is to ensure that taxes don’t go up on 98 percent of Americans and 97 percent of small businesses in just a few short days,” said press secretary Jay Carney. “The president will work with Congress to get this done.”
On Capitol Hill, though, Democrats said Mr. Boehner wasted a week’s worth of negotiating time by trying his Plan B — particularly since Mr. Obama had already threatened to veto the bill and since Mr. Reid, the top Democrat in the upper chamber, had said he wouldn’t even bring it to his chamber’s floor for a vote.
Both Mr. Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor had vowed earlier in the day they had the votes to pass their plan, but as the evening dragged on they halted floor action to huddle with their caucus and see where support was.
Some Republicans had argued for the deal.
“A lifeguard who sees 10 swimmers drowning off his beach, if he can only save nine of them, that doesn’t mean he’s drowned the 10th one,” Rep. Tom McClintock, California Republican, said on the floor. “Let’s save who we can.”
But too many others said they couldn’t vote for any tax-rate increases, and that forced Mr. Boehner to concede.
Emerging from the meeting, rank-and-file lawmakers said Mr. Boehner told them he will call Mr. Obama and try to work something out. But publicly Mr. Boehner was defiant, saying that the House has already passed bills earlier this year to avert tax increases and spending cuts.
Democrats, though, countered that they’ve also passed a bill through the Senate that extended tax cuts for all but those making $250,000 or more, and insisted Mr. Boehner should vote on that.
“Until you pass the 250,000, we are not going to do anything,” Mr. Reid said.
The tax increases, scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, are the result of the expiration of Bush-era income tax cuts and several Obama tax cuts passed in 2009 and 2010. The $110 billion in spending cuts, slated to go into effect Jan. 2, are the legacy of last year’s debt-ceiling deal.