Does House Speaker John Boehner's Fiscal Cliff Fallback Plan B Have The Votes To Pass?

11:22 PM, Dec 19, 2012   |    comments
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WASHINGTON, D.C. (CBS) - A conservative House Republican and his allies held a brief press conference on Wednesday to make clear that they will not be voting with House Speaker John Boehner on the "Plan B" bill that Boehner has presented as a fallback if "fiscal cliff" negotiations fail.

Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kansas, said he objected to the "tax increases" in the bill, adding that millions are "troubled" by proposals that don't square with "clear conservative, clear Republican principles."

He added that Republicans who vote for the bill despite signing a pledge not to raise taxes "would certainly deserve primary opposition."

Roughly one hour earlier, Boehner had stated that the "Plan B" proposal, which would extend the Bush-era income tax rates on income under $1 million, will pass the House tomorrow. "Then the president will have a decision to make," Boehner told reporters. "He can call on the Senate Democrats to pass that bill or he can be responsible for the largest tax increase in American history." The president has vowed to veto the bill if it comes to his desk.

As recently as this weekend, Boehner aides were predicting a "fiscal cliff" deal could be reached by midweek. But today, they acknowledge, the pace of talks has slowed. The aides argue that this is because, in the words of one aide, the White House is in standby mode, "waiting, hoping, praying" that Boehner can't muster up the votes tomorrow to pass "Plan B."

Republican aides insist they have counted the votes in their conference and have the votes they need to pass Plan B tomorrow - even though some Republicans are upset about casting a vote for a bill that can be interpreted as allowing tax rates to rise on some people.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday afternoon that the bill won't get any Democratic support - and thus won't pass. "The 'Plan B' will not pass as a result of Democratic votes," she told reporters. If no Democrats back the bill, Boehner can only afford to lose about 20 Republican votes.

It helps him that Grover Norquist's group, Americans for Tax Reform, put out a statement saying that Wednesday saying that "Plan B" does not break the no-tax pledge because it "contains no tax increases of any kind." But the other big anti-tax group, Club for Growth, put out a statement urging members to vote no on "Plan B," because it "increases tax rates for those making over $1 million while also raising taxes on capital gains and dividends."

A top Republican aide argues passing "Plan B" will inoculate Republicans from accusations that they are to blame if the nation goes over the cliff. "The president's perceived leverage is that he can blame us if something doesn't come together. But if we've already passed legislation, you remove that leverage," said the aide. Polls show that a majority of Americans will blame both parties if the nation goes over the cliff, though the public is more likely to back the president than House Republicans.

As Mr. Obama acknowledged Wednesday, the two sides are several billion dollars apart. Republican aides contend that when you take out "gimmicks, interest, and new stimulus spending," the president's offer contains $1.3 trillion in new revenue and $850 billion in cuts. "We need to get to one-to-one....that's a balanced approach," said one aide.

A top Democratic aide said that negotiations are "not in a good place, and haven't been in a good place since Monday." (Republicans are somewhat more optimistic, saying that talks have "slowed a little" but are still moving along). "My understanding is that the two sides haven't spoken since Monday," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., asserted in a news conference Wednesday.

The Democratic aide said Boehner's "Plan B" has "poisoned the well a bit" and is a "waste of time that will blow up in his face" if it doesn't pass the House tomorrow.

The Democratic aide said the most likely scenario is that members go home for Christmas with no deal, take a breather, and come back and work something out. "Odds are that we are not going to have something for Christmas...these things can change with a phone call, but it's not my sense that that is imminent," said the aide.

The Senate has already passed its own "Plan B" - a bill extending the Bush-era tax rates for income under $250,000 per year, which matches Mr. Obama's campaign promises. Even if Boehner's "Plan B" passes tomorrow, Democrats argue that theirs is the more viable backup plan, since the president has issued a veto threat on Boehner's bill. Boehner, meanwhile, is holding a second vote tomorrow on a bill that is essentially the Senate plan, to show it cannot pass the House because House Republicans will not agree to raise tax rates on income over $250,000.

GOP aides tell CBS News that the original plans are now in flux, and they may change their strategy to ensure they enough votes for the tax package raising rates on income over $1 million tomorrow.

They may offer a separate package of spending cuts to give members chance to make clear they are still committed to cutting spending in a separate package. They may also drop the second vote on the Senate plan, since some members would rather not take that vote.

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