Boehner tries to shift ‘fiscal cliff’ responsibility to Democrats

WASHINGTON -- Dimming the prospects for further cooperation on the budget crisis, Republican House Speaker John A. Boehner on Friday tried to shift responsibility to the Democrats if the country goes over the so-called fiscal cliff at the end of the month.

“We only run the House. The Democrats continue to run Washington,” Boehner told a Capitol news conference the morning after fellow Republicans refused to go along with his plan for averting the looming budget crisis. The setback on the House floor dealt the GOP leader a severe blow and threw the future of the budget deliberations into chaos.

Among the questions the top Republican in Congress avoided: What is the next step in Washington’s effort to prevent massive tax increases and spending cuts from taking effect in the new year. When might Boehner go back to the bargaining table with President Obama? Will he allow a more limited tax-cut extension or a comprehensive budget package from the White House to come up for a House vote? Will the House even bother to return to Washington before the end of the year?

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Boehner left the clear impression that he was abandoning further negotiations with Obama, though he denied that was the case and didn’t answer when asked if he would continue to speak with the president.

Pressed as to what he would do now, Boehner would only say, “House leaders, Senate leaders and the president are going to continue to have to work together.”

Despite indications by GOP leaders that the House would remain on the job, congressmen were sent home after Boehner pulled his measure from the floor Thursday night.

“We’re prepared to come back if needed” sometime after Christmas was all he would say, with House Republican leader Eric Cantor of Virginia at his side.

Cantor, who could become speaker if Boehner fails to hold on to the job, said Republicans “stand ready to continue and dialogue with this president to actually fix the problem.” He too tried to shift the onus to the Democrats, saying the Democratic-led Senate needed to “get serious” about dealing with the problem. Polls, however, have consistently shown that the public will blame congressional Republicans more than the president if the fiscal cliff isn’t averted.

Boehner, in spite of having suffered the worst rejection dealt a House speaker by members of his own party in recent memory, insisted he wasn’t concerned about losing his leadership position, which will be decided in an election next month by members of the new House.

But his miscalculation -- pushing his own “Plan B” after abruptly pulling out of talks with Obama -- exposed his inability to lead his fractious GOP caucus, weakening his hand in future dealings with the White House and raising serious questions about whether he could produce enough Republican votes to approve a sweeping budget deal.

“The president knows that I’ve always been able to deliver on any promise that I’ve made with him. The concern that I had is that time was running short,” he said, referring to the Dec. 31 deadline.

Asked to explain why conservative Republicans had abandoned his proposal, Boehner blamed “a perception” that the measure was going to raise taxes. Boehner’s proposal would have increased taxes on income over $1 million a year, while extending the George W. Bush-era tax cuts for everyone below that threshold. It also did not extend some expiring tax breaks, so taxes would have increased for taxpayers who claim them.

“We had a number of our members who just really didn’t want to be perceived as having raised taxes. That was the real issue,” Boehner said.

Boehner was evasive when asked whether it might endanger his job as speaker to cut a grand bargain with Obama and bring it to the House for a vote.

“Listen, at some point,” Washington has to address its “spending problem” and overhaul the tax system in a way that spurs economic growth, the veteran Ohio congressman replied.

“How we get there,” he added, “God only knows.”