The morning after conservatives in his conference threw Plan B back in his face, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) did his level best to sound like a man in charge — as if his vulnerabilities had not been laid bare just 12 hours earlier.
He characterized President Obama and Senate Democrats — rather than his own members — as the obstacle to a fiscal cliff deal, and even said the differences between him and his negotiating partner might be too great to bridge.
But he also pointed subtly toward a viable way forward.
Asked whether he might now hold a vote on Senate legislation to extend the Bush tax cuts for income up to $250,000, Boehner steered the conversation elsewhere.
“As you all know the Senate bill had a blue slip problem and it continues to sit in the United States Senate. So we don’t have the Senate bill,” Boehner said. Blue slipping is the procedure the House uses to shelve tax bills initiated by the Senate, which, according to the Constitution, can’t be the starting point for legislation that raises revenue.
In practice, Boehner could work around the blue slip issue. But it’s what he said next that revealed where he wants things to go from here.
“We do have a House bill that sits in the Senate that extended tax rates for all Americans, and we’ve been waiting since August the first for the Senate to act,” Boehner said. “If the Senate wants to act on that bill, we’ll certainly take a look at it.”
Notice that he’s given up on the hopeless idea that the Senate would just pass that bill. His suggestion is that the Senate amend the bill with … something. That something could be a rewrite of the bill Harry Reid passed in July, setting the Bush tax cut extension threshold at $250,000. Or it could be a bigger deal hashed out by Obama and congressional leaders, including Boehner.
“[W]e see a situation where because of the political divide in the country — because of the divide here in Washington — trying to bridge these differences has been difficult,” Boehner said. But when asked whether he’s abandoned negotiations with Obama, he made pretty clear that he had not.
“I did not say that, and nobody ought to read anything into this.”
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.