John Boehner’s speakership is believed to be on the line after his Republican counterparts spurned his alternative fiscal cliff plan Thursday evening, damaging his credibility and suggesting to the nation that he doesn't have strong support in the House. Now experts suspect he could resign before the Jan. 3 election for Speaker.
That Boehner had to pull the plug on “Plan B” before it went up for a vote is arguably the most embarrassing defeat he has suffered since his tenure as speaker began. The legislation called for higher taxes on family income over $1 million annually.
But as Boehner explained Friday morning, Republicans who didn’t back his proposal “were dealing with the perception that someone might accuse them of raising taxes.”
Numerous members of the party have said they weren’t re-elected to raise anyone’s taxes. The party also has a longstanding pledge with anti-tax lobbyist Grover Norquist not to adopt any new taxes.
When asked Friday if his speakership is at risk, Boehner at first avoided the question. However, when prodded again he said, “No.”
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Still, some political experts like Boston University’s Thomas Whalen think the speaker will withdraw before his post is renewed next year.
Whalen explains that Boehner’s defeat on “Plan B” diminished him as a leader.
“I think he really has no power,” Whalen said. “He had to withdraw from the deal. If you can’t get that done, then he can get anything done. He’s a really poor leader. He has no juice at this point.”
Whalen isn’t the only one who thinks Boehner hasn’t much cooking.
The Brookings Institute's Barry Bosworth, who was also a presidential adviser, said it now appears that a substantial number GOP members would prefer a showdown in which they can vote against any tax increase.
“In other words, they may wait until early in the New Year,” he said. “Boehner tried to increase his leverage to insist on expenditure cuts by agreeing to some tax increase, but it backfired.”
Bosworth doesn’t believe The White House and Congress will cut a deal before the Dec. 31 deadline because the Republicans have been sent home and “it will be hard for Boehner to proceed until he can restore control over his members.”
“He has a few days after Christmas,” Bosworth said, “but I think it is unlikely.”
When it comes to Boehner’s speakership, Bosworth said, “he needs a new authorizing vote or he will resign as speaker.”
But not everyone is pessimistic about Boehner’s future as a speaker even though talks between President Obama and the Republicans have almost completely broken down and it looks like America is about to dive right into automatic spending cuts and higher taxes across the board next month.
“Part of leadership is taking risks,” said William Galston, a senior fellow at Brookings and former adviser to President Bill Clinton. “If you always do the sure thing you miss opportunities. Boehner saw an opportunity and he was wrong.”
Boehner’s latest opportunity saw him wasting a week of negotiating time when he left the talks to attempt to pass his back-up plan. He doesn’t seem to have Obama moving anywhere toward smaller or no taxes and greater spending cuts. Boehner couldn’t sell the plan to conservatives, not even after Obama moved his tax hike threshold to $400,000 or more.
“I wouldn’t wish Boehner’s situation on my worst enemy,” said Albert Cover, political science professor at Stony Brook University. “He certainly never had enthusiastic support from his caucus. … He really has no way of enticing coorperation among those who are ideologically committed to the tea party.”
Despite all that, Cover doesn’t foresee a resignation coming from Boehner.
“If he is to govern with substantial help from the Democrats he can continue to do that,” Cover said. “The purists can continue to be pure. He can continue to stumble forward.”
Whatever happens, at the moment, Boehner's reliability is in question and Whalen said he "sees disaster of epic proportion come January."