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House Pulls 'Plan B' Tax Measure From The Floor


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Well, so much for Plan B. In a dramatic setback for House Speaker John Boehner, tonight he had to call off a vote on his alternative plan to avert the fiscal cliff because he didn't have the votes from his own Republican caucus to pass it. So now, year-end tax increases and spending cuts are looming as the House has gone home for Christmas without voting on the Boehner plan. Boehner and other House leaders had offered a higher tax rate on income over one million dollars a year, coupled with the promise to cut spending drastically while holding defense programs harmless. NPR congressional correspondent David Welna joins me to walk through how this vote fell apart. And, David, it became clearer and clearer through the evening that this was not going to go down as the speaker intended.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Indeed, Melissa. I think the first sign of this was when they held a vote earlier this evening on putting off the sequester with a bunch of other tax cuts that only Republicans really supported. They barely got enough votes for that, and I think that was a pretty clear sign that they were in trouble in terms of getting enough votes for this Plan B, which in effect is asking Republicans to go along with tax rates rising for income above a million dollars after the beginning of the year. And really, I think this was probably a bridge too far for a lot of Republicans and that became clear in the evening when, instead of going to the vote, the Republicans met behind closed doors. And they emerged saying in fact there was going to be no vote. Speaker Boehner issued a statement saying that there would be no vote and that it would be up to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid now to move things forward.

BLOCK: And to be clear here, David, who are the Republicans who have been resisting the speaker on this? Is this another conservative revolt, as he's dealt with before?

WELNA: It is a conservative revolt. This - a lot of Tea Party-backed members of Congress say that giving in on tax rates rising, even for the wealthiest, is a betrayal of what people sent them to Congress to do. And they have the backing of conservative activist groups such as the Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity, the Heritage Foundation, which sent spokesmen outside the Capitol yesterday to rail against Boehner's plan. And already there are triumphant emails going out from them saying "we won." And, I mean, this was just really a huge test for Boehner and his clout as leader of the Republicans, as speaker of the House. This is a gigantic setback for him.

BLOCK: And a lot of people now, David, are saying - are they not - this is the end for Speaker Boehner as speaker of the House. He cannot survive.

WELNA: It could well be. When the new Congress convenes on January 3rd, the first vote that the House is going to take is for who should be speaker of the House. And some had speculated that Boehner would want to hold off any big votes until after then because he didn't want to test how much support he had in his caucus. Right now, there's a real question whether he actually has the kind of leadership that can survive in that caucus. And I guess one of the things that we're going to be wondering about in the coming days is whether we're going to hear Speaker Boehner offering his resignation or not.

BLOCK: David, is there a way to avert the fiscal cliff before January 1st?

WELNA: Well, you know, I think that right now the initiative may be coming from the White House, from Senate Democrats. They're planning to meet next Thursday, the 27th. Congress is to reconvene then - at least the Senate is. And I think when they get to that 11th-plus hour, maybe there will be more willingness on the part of House Republicans to do something to keep taxes from going up January 1st.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's David Welna. David, thanks.

WELNA: You're welcome, Melissa.

BLOCK: And, again, the news that House Speaker John Boehner called off a vote on his Plan B because he didn't have the Republican votes to pass it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.
David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.