House Speaker John Boehner's Plan B — which would extend the Bush tax cuts on income under $1 million now, separately from trickier other fiscal cliff negotiations — was supposed to make the GOP look like the reasonable crowd, just trying to prevent tax increases on most Americans. "Boehner is trying to strengthen his negotiating hand, give himself more legislative options, show his House Republican Conference that he is willing to play hardball and shift blame if they can’t come to an agreement," Politico reported Tuesday night. "Several rank-and-file House Republicans said the message they heard at an evening caucus was that passing plan B would strengthen Boehner’s hand in negotiating steeper spending cuts with Obama," the Associated Press said. But Republican lawmakers began anonymously grumbling about the proposal, and then grumbling on the record about it. Instead of putting pressure on Obama and the White House, which immediately rejected and then announced its intention to veto the idea, Plan B has brought more attention to infighting among Republicans.
On Wednesday, while President Obama was telling reporters at a press conference how close he and Republicans are to making a deal on the fiscal cliff, two top conservative think tanks issued press releases with opposing takes on Plan B. Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform endorsed it, even though it allows taxes to be increased on income over $1 million. But the Heritage Foundation's Heritage Action demanded conservative lawmakers vote against it. Then the conservative Club for Growth announced its opposition to Plan B, calling the bill merely a bargaining tactic. As these dueling press releases spread across the Internet, Obama offered some sympathy for Boehner, saying the speaker "has some challenges in his caucus." Obama said he recognized that for Republicans, "the majority of their membership comes from districts that I lost. Sometimes they might not see an incentive in cooperating with me." Then Obama started riffing on a favorite topic of pundits, saying those lawmakers might be "more concerned about challenges from a Tea Party candidate or challenges from the right, and cooperating with me might make them vulnerable." Obama suggested they forget that "at least for the next month," and then fighting can begin again in the new year.
On Thursday, the House will vote on Plan B, National Review's Robert Costa reports, with the aim of getting Obama raise his offer — letting the Bush tax cuts expire on income under $400,000 — to something closer to Boehner's $1 million. Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer says it doesn't matter whether Republicans pass Plan B or not. It'll break the seal on tax hikes. But the consensus among reporters seems to be that whatever it means for the fiscal cliff, the failure of Plan B would be pretty bad for Boehner.