WASHINGTON – As the House prepared to vote Thursday on Speaker John A. Boehner’s tax plan, party leaders blamed each other for the stalemate as little progress is made to prevent falling off the “fiscal cliff,” the automatic tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to come in the new year.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia said he was confident Republicans “are going to have the votes” to pass Boehner’s “Plan B,” which would prevent tax hikes in the new year on all but the wealthiest of Americans, those who earn more than $1 million a year.
The White House has said President Obama would veto the measure, while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said the Boehner bill “has no future” and the GOP had “wasted an entire week on a number of pointless political stunts.”
Both sides pledged to work through the holiday season, with only a slight pause for Christmas, to resolve the standoff.
The House is set to vote late Thursday on Boehner's fallback plan to extend the lower Bush-era tax rates for those making up to $1 million, while letting rates on income above that go up on Jan. 1. Boehner’s plan was modified late into the night on Wednesday as the leadership works feverishly to wrangle reluctant Republicans in the face of Democratic opposition.
The vote is expected to unfold in two parts: First, a vote on already-approved Republican legislation to shift the coming budget cuts away from defense, sparing the Pentagon in favor of steep reductions to domestic programs, including school lunches and Meals on Wheels.
The second vote would be on the tax proposal, which hikes the top income tax rate, from 35% to 39.6% on income above $1 million. It also raises the capital gains and dividends tax rate, from 15% to 20%, on those same upper-income households.
Most notably, GOP leaders scrapped plans to vote on Obama’s initial proposal, which would extend the tax rates for those earning less than $250,000. The Republican rank-and-file balked at having to take that vote, and Democrats would have likely supported it.
Boehner can afford no more than two dozen defections from his party on Plan B, if Democrats remain united in opposition. Many outside conservative groups have urged Republicans to reject Boehner’s plan, although anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist notably said supporting it would not violate his pledge.
“We're going to have the votes,” Cantor told reporters, an apparent acknowledgment that they did not yet have them Thursday morning. “We are, again, taking concrete actions to avoid the fiscal cliff.” He called on the Senate to take up the legislation once it’s passed.
Cantor said members would stay in Washington after Thursday’s vote. But action in the Senate on Friday is unlikely, with a memorial service scheduled at the National Cathedral in honor of the late Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), who had been the longest-serving senator. Some senators were also planning to fly to Hawaii to attend services there over the weekend. Reid said the Senate would resume Dec. 27.
Obama is scheduled Thursday to travel to the Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., to visit with wounded soldiers and their families. He may also travel to the Hill to pay respects to Inouye, whose body was lying in repose in the Capitol Rotunda.