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Boehner Answers Questions About Withdrawing 'Plan B'


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm David Greene. Action last night in the U.S. House of Representatives suggests just how hard it could be to pass a solution to the tax increases and spending cuts due at the end of the year.

INSKEEP: House Speaker John Boehner has yet to reach a deal with President Obama so he sought to put his own plan before the House last night.

GREENE: It was seen as a symbolic proposal to pressure the president, but because it included higher taxes for millionaires, many of his fellow Republicans said no, and Boehner could not even pass that.

INSKEEP: The Republican leader withdrew his bill, having to publicly admit he could not deliver the support of his own Republican members. John Boehner has been giving a press conference this morning. He, in fact, is just wrapping it up, where he was dealing with a lot of these issues. And we're joined in the studio by NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Ron, thanks for coming in.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, David.

GREENE: Before we hear a bit of what Boehner had to say, give us a quick recap. I mean the president and speaker seemed to be so close a few days ago, and then all of this yesterday.

ELVING: They did seem to be close. They seemed to be just a few hundred billion apart, which in terms of trillions of dollars, of course, is getting down into the change. And at that point, frustrated that he couldn't get more of what he wanted from his standpoint, or what he could sell back at the House, John Boehner essentially tried this end run, where he tried to plan - tried to pass what he called Plan B in the House. And his own membership refused to support him in sufficient numbers.

He had two dozen, maybe 30 defections. That costs him his majority control of the House. Therefore in full defeat he had to actually take the bill down and not even have a vote, not even hold a vote. And they had a meeting and he, essentially in some extremis, told them that they weren't going to have a vote and they would see what they could get going forward. And the members left and most of them now have gone home for Christmas.

GREENE: We're in the morning after now, and Speaker Boehner just - just made some comments about this. Let's give a listen.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: As you know, the House did not take up the tax bill last night because we didn't have the votes to pass it. It's not the outcome that I wanted, but that was the will of the House. So unless the president and Congress take action, tax rates will go up on every American taxpayer and devastating defense cuts will go into effect in 10 days.

GREENE: Boehner seems to be putting the onus back on the president and Democrats. But how big a defeat was this for the speaker of the House?

ELVING: Whatever the president does, whatever the Senate does, something has to pass the House. John Boehner is in charge of the House and is supposed to be the person who gets something put together that can pass the House. Now, the way he likes to do business is a majority of the majority. What the majority of Republicans want, that can pass the House, because they have enough votes. Last night he was shown that he no longer can do that. If he could at one time, he no longer has that power. At least not for the idea that he had put forward, which presumably would be more popular with his own members than whatever they will get from Barack Obama and the Democrats in the Senate.

So essentially his ploy, his end-run on the negotiations with the president, failed, and instead of showing him as a person with some cards in this game, it showed him rather the opposite. So now he has to go back to those negotiations with the president, come up with something that can get an adequate number of Democratic votes to supplement the Republican votes he has, and try to cobble together a bipartisan passage in the House which will probably enrage the most conservative elements of his own caucus, and he'll have to deal with that again when he comes back in January and tries to get elected speaker again.

GREENE: So coming back to the president and what has been an extraordinary week in Washington - I mean President Obama has been - has been dealing with this and also being really consoler-in-chief after the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut - there was a moment of silence just a little while ago for all of the victims in that tragedy a week ago.

Give us a sense of the political context here for the president as he tries to, you know, start working with Boehner, you know, after what happened yesterday.

ELVING: Because of what happened one week ago today in Newtown, Connecticut, the atmosphere in the entire country changed. A lot of the holiday since in the country was lost, and we've been exposed to these funerals all week long. This is a sorrow that's not going to go away, and it did change the atmosphere in Washington, and for a few days that seemed to be changing things with respect to the fiscal discussion as well.

But the president at this moment has uncommon leverage - on the gun issue, which we haven't seen prominent in Washington in a long time now, it's going to be prominent again as we enter the New Year; and to some degree that is also affecting his strength and Boehner's weakness with respect to the other negotiations as well.

GREENE: Ron, great. Thanks for coming in. We appreciate it.

ELVING: Thank you, David.

GREENE: That's NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for
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