A day after being rebuked by his own conference, exposing his feeble control of the House, Speaker John A. Boehner tried to explain away the mutiny and pushed back against the thought that his speakership could be on the line. But he also did not provide any guidance on what comes next, instead repeating the talking points that surfaced from his office Thursday night that it is now the responsibility of the Senate and the White House to act.
After House Republicans refused Boehner’s pleas to vote for his “plan B” tax legislation, the Ohio Republican told reporters Friday that although it is not the outcome he wanted, his members’ defiance was not personal. Instead, he said it was borne of leaders’ inability to convince members that the bill does not constitute a tax increase.
“While we may have not been able to get the votes last night to avert 99.81 percent of the tax increases . . . they weren’t taking that out on me. They were dealing with the perception that somebody might accuse them of raising taxes,” Boehner said. “Listen, I’m proud of our members. They do a great job on behalf of their constituents and, frankly, a great job on behalf of our country.”
The bill would have averted a tax increase on those making less than $1 million while allowing taxes rates to rise on the top tax bracket, and leaders tried to spin it as a net tax cut. But the GOP had spent the entire election season calling similar proposals from President Barack Obama and Democrats a tax increase, so in the end they were unable to unchain themselves from the perception in the party that doing anything but extending all of the 2001 and 2003 tax rates counted as a tax increase.
“The problem that I had was that time was running short,” Boehner said. “There was a perception created that that vote last night was going to raise taxes. I disagree with that characterization of the bill, but that impression was out there. And we had a number of our members who just really didn’t want to be perceived as having raised taxes. That was the real issue.”
In case there were any questions about an overthrow of his leadership, Boehner held the press conference along with Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., once his chief rival. Both read from the same page, saying the House has passed several bills dealing with the fiscal cliff that the Senate has not taken up.
Boehner, however, skirted questions about how he will proceed in light of Thursday night’s events. He ducked questions on whether he would allow a House vote on Obama’s plan to deal with the fiscal cliff but instead called on the Senate and the president to act.
So while the road forward remains unclear and the prospect of going over the fiscal cliff very real, it remains doubtful Boehner is willing to change his legislative tactics.
Boehner and Cantor sent the House home Thursday night for the holidays, and the two did not address definitively when the chamber would reassemble in the coming days to continue addressing the fiscal cliff.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.