A breakdown of Boehner's miscalculation on Plan B

POSTED: Friday, December 21, 2012 - 11:03am
UPDATED: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - 9:14am

(CNN) -- House Speaker John Boehner suffered a major political setback Thursday when he failed to garner enough votes to pass his back-up plan to a fiscal cliff deal, also known as "Plan B."

But what happened?

Last weekend some of Boehner's big concessions-including an increase on tax rates for millionaires and an agreement to raise the debt limit--started to leak out, according to Republican sources. When Boehner came into his leadership meeting Monday morning, he got an earful from fellow Republicans, who said his strategy wasn't going to fly.

Late last week, GOP leaders had already started talking more seriously about a legislative path, so they decided why not take Plan B -- raising taxes only on those making more than a million dollars a year -- to the floor. The move also allowed Republicans to still protect most small businesses, which make less than $1 million a year. The fact that Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi had endorsed it two years ago made them think that it would be an easier sell than it was.

Boehner reminded GOP members that while he does not want tax rates to go up, the American people disagree. One source said Boehner was effectively trying to save Republicans from themselves and prevent them from being painted as they are today -- so extreme that they won't even raise taxes on millionaires.

Boehner did, however, have a majority of Republicans on his side, but it wasn't enough without help from Democrats. A Democratic source said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer was successful at ensuring the few moderate Democrats didn't cross party lines.

Meanwhile, many more GOP members than anticipated by House Republican leaders started saying no to Plan B because they simply did not want to go on record supporting any tax increase, especially one that had no chance of passing. One source involved in whipping GOP votes said a number of undecided members fell into the "no" column when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid repeatedly made it clear he would not take up the bill. What's the point, many asked.

Apparently, by the time a vote to replace the sequester with spending cuts took place at about 6:30 p.m. ET Thursday night, GOP leaders already knew they were not likely to get the votes for Plan B. Conservative groups were working hard to make that vote close, an effort to show the leadership that Plan B had no chance of getting enough GOP votes.

By that time, the GOP leaders' scramble had morphed into panic.

At 7:45 p.m. ET, inside a hastily arranged GOP conference, Boehner opened the meeting with the serenity prayer. House GOP conferences, which are held in private, are always opened with the pledge and a prayer, but the prayer is usually done by a rank and file member. This time, it came from the House speaker.

Boehner then announced they are pulling the bill. Some boos, as well as some cheers, could be heard from outside the door. One of the cheers came from Rep. Alan Nunnelee of Mississippi, who had open heart surgery this week but came back for the vote to support the speaker, a source said.

Then--as everyone was about to leave-Rep. Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania grabbed the microphone and started berating the conference for failing the speaker, telling his colleagues they need to do this. He shouted to the back of the room to Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the GOP whip, asking how far away they are from the number of votes necessary to pass the bill.

McCarthy responded saying, "Mike, we're not going to get there."

The speaker chimed in and said there is nothing more we can do.

And then it was over.

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