Published December 25, 2012
The public may be frustrated over Congress unable to resolve the “fiscal cliff” in time for the holiday season, but they may want to consider this point: lawmakers probably could enact a quicker compromise easily if Republican Democrat leaders could compromise, even possibly giving Democrats most of the votes.
That would give Democrats a bigger voice in the bargain, of course, which could make the Republican-led House weary. That's why about 10 percent of the House's members were able to thwart Speaker John Boehner's bid to pass a narrowly crafted bill that might have strengthened his bargaining hand.
By trying to pass his plan with GOP votes alone, Boehner could afford to lose only two dozen of the 241 House Republicans. His private headcount found nearly twice that many defectors, party insiders say, forcing Boehner to give up without seeking a formal vote. The miscalculation left negotiations in disarray as the Dec. 31 deadline nears.
The House's 192 Democrats essentially sat on the sidelines, bit players in last week's House drama.
House speakers traditionally advance major legislation only if most of their party's members support it. It's called the "majority of the majority" rule of thumb. But past speakers, including Democrat Nancy Pelosi and Republican Dennis Hastert, have ignored the rule at times.
Some Democrats are now calling on Boehner to do the same to avert the "fiscal cliff" of big tax hikes and spending cuts scheduled to take effect in the New Year.
Veterans in both parties say many House Democrats would likely join a sufficient number of Republicans to pass a compromise along the lines that Boehner and President Barack Obama seemed to be nearing last week before Boehner struck out on his own. Such a compromise plan might preserve Bush-era tax cuts for all couples making less than $400,000 or so a year.
While Obama did not explicitly embrace such a plan, he and Boehner appeared to be edging toward some variation of it. But Boehner abruptly launched his separate proposal — he dubbed it "Plan B" — which the conservatives' revolt killed late Thursday.
Boehner's plan would have spared anyone making less than $1 million a year from a tax rate hike in 2013. At least 40 House Republicans refused to back any tax rate increase at all, lawmakers said, dooming the plan.
GOP leaders note that virtually everyone's taxes will rise Jan. 1 without congressional action. They say sparing 98 or 99 percent of Americans is the best political alternative, given Obama's negotiating strength.
It's not known how many House Republicans would vote to avert the "fiscal cliff" by supporting a tax-and-spending plan closer to Obama's liking.
An Obama-backed deal presumably would draw the overwhelming support of House and
Senate Democrats. But even if every House Democrat backed it, it would need another 25 votes in that chamber.
"If Speaker Boehner is willing to bring to the floor of the House a bill, and just let this House work its will, Democrats and Republicans voting as their conscience determines, then I believe we can get something done," Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., told Bloomberg TV.
He noted that Pelosi, as House speaker in 2006, violated the "majority of the majority" rule by letting Republicans provide most of the votes for an Iraq war funding measure she disliked.
Aides to Boehner say he believes in, and abides by, the "majority of the majority" rule without declaring it an iron-clad requirement. They did not respond to messages asking if Boehner might consider ignoring the rule to avert the "fiscal cliff."
John Feehery, who was a top aide to Hastert, said he doubted that would happen.
Then early next year, Feehery said, lawmakers could "vote to cut taxes rather than vote to raise taxes."
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.