The House GOP Conference called Speaker Boehner’s bluff. Boehner had entered the “fiscal cliff” negotiations as a one-man show, offering up concessions on bedrock conservative principles on behalf of his entire conference. Forgetting that any offer he made needed the votes of 217 of his colleagues, he went from press conference to press conference trying to sell his plan to the public. In the end, his own members shot down his plan.
This week, Boehner, frustrated with the progress of talks with the White House, cut off negotiations and moved to enact his “Plan B.” It would have raised tax rates for those making more than $1 million a year, while extending tax cuts for everyone else. It was intended to force Obama and the Democrats to offer their own counter-proposal to avert going over the “cliff.” But, the plan required Republicans to accept that higher taxes were some part of any plan to lower our deficit. It was a bridge too far.
Boehner gambled that, through tactical punishments and rewards, he could deliver his conference for whatever plan he proposed. He lost badly. His entire leadership is now in question. His central negotiating strategy has been rejected by his caucus. The powers of the Speaker’s office are vast, yet they weren’t enough to get Republicans to violate a core principle. That should give hope to conservatives.
The House is not likely to return to Washington until the new year. Over the coming weeks, expect a challenger to Boehner to emerge. Even if he were to hold on to his speakership, his power and authority have been mortally wounded. It is time for a conservative leader to emerge.