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Fri Dec 21, 2012, 12:54 PM

The Big Fail. Why Boehner’s last, best hope at avoiding the “fiscal cliff” exploded in his face

Why John Boehner’s last, best hope at avoiding the “fiscal cliff” exploded in his face.
By David Weigel|Posted Friday, Dec. 21, 2012, at 10:18 AM ET

Anyone paying attention to the goat rodeo formerly known as the House of Representatives knew, before noon on Thursday, that Republicans were screwed. At an 11:10 a.m. press conference, held near the Capitol’s statue of Will Rogers, Majority Leader Eric Cantor reintroduced the GOP’s “Plan B” package of fiscal cliff solutions—a bill that would replace the scheduled defense cuts with cuts to social programs, and a bill that would extend the Bush tax cuts for all those with income over $1 million. A reporter asked Cantor if Republicans had the votes to push this through.

“We’re going to have the votes to pass the permanent tax relief bill,” said Cantor, “as well as the spending reduction bill.”

The roll calls were scheduled to take place seven or eight hours after the press conference. That suggested that Cantor needed more time to round up Republican support. And yet one hour later, a reporter began a question to White House spokesman Jay Carney this way: “Majority Leader Cantor says he has enough votes to pass Speaker Boehner’s plan B.” The conditional—“going to have”—had been transformed, by an inattentive observer, into the confident “has.”

The slippery, confident-but-not-certain version was true. On Thursday night, Republicans barely passed the Spending Reduction Bill of 2012—the replacement of sequestration—with 215 votes, losing 21 of their members and winning over no Democrats. That was supposed to be the popular half of Plan B. Cantor’s party rushed through some meaningless bills (S. 925, “to designate Mt. Andrea Lawrence”), then went into recess, presumably to wrangle votes. They seemed to be around 22 votes short, when 23 “nays” would kill the bill.



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