House GOP plans vote on fiscal cliff 'Plan B' despite White House veto threat
WASHINGTON — House Republicans pushed toward Thursday night passage of legislation to prevent year-end tax increases for most Americans while letting rates rise for million-dollar earners, a politically charged but largely symbolic measure meant to position the party for final compromise talks with President Barack Obama on averting an economy-threatening fiscal cliff.
The White House threatened a veto, and Senate Democrats made plain they would sidetrack the bill the moment it arrived from the House. Yet officials in both parties suggested the House vote would clear the way for a final stab at negotiations to prevent looming separate tax and spending changes that could push the nation into a new recession.
The fiscal cliff has dominated the postelection session of Congress that now seems certain to extend well beyond Christmas. More broadly, it marks the end of a tumultuous period in which dozens of tea party-backed conservative Republicans roared into the House demanding lower taxes, yet now find themselves two years later called on by their own leadership to raise rates on upper incomes.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Thursday night's legislation — he'd dubbed it Plan B — marked a move to "protect as many American families and small businesses as possible from the tax hikes that are already scheduled to occur" with the new year.
Referring to one of the core themes of Obama's re-election campaign, he said the president has called for legislation to protect 98 percent of the American people from a tax hike. "Well, today we're going to do better than that," he said. "Our bill would protect 99.81 percent of the American people from an increase in taxes."
Democrats said that by keeping tax rates unchanged below $1 million — Obama wants the level to be $400,000 — Republicans had turned the bill into a tax break for the wealthy. They also accused Republicans of crafting their measure to impose a tax increase on 11 million middle class families.
"This is a ploy, not a plan," said Rep. Sandy Levin, D-Mich. He accused Republicans of being "deeply cynical," saying the legislation would scale back some education and child tax credits.
A companion bill on the evening's House agenda, meant to build GOP support for the tax bill, called for elimination of an estimated $97 billion in cuts to the Pentagon and certain domestic programs over a decade. Those cuts would be replaced with savings totaling $314 billion, achieved through increases in the amount federal employees contribute toward their pensions and through cuts in social programs such as food stamps and the health care law that Obama signed earlier in his term.
Ironically, the votes were set in motion earlier in the week, after Boehner and Obama had significantly narrowed their differences on a compromise to avoid the fiscal cliff.
Republican officials said that members of the GOP leadership had balked at the terms that were emerging. Democrats said Boehner's abrupt decision to shift to his Plan B — legislation drafted unilaterally by Republicans — reflected a calculation that he lacked support from his own rank and file to win the votes needed for the type of agreement he was negotiating with the president.
Asked at a news conference a few hours before the scheduled vote if that were so, Boehner avoided a direct answer. "Listen, the president knows that I've been able to keep my word on every agreement we've ever made," he said.
At the same time, Boehner hinted broadly that however Democrats end up responding to the legislation he placed before the House, it will not be the end of the attempt to keep the economy from reaching the fiscal cliff.
"Our country faces serious challenges. The president and I in our respective roles have a responsibility to work together to get them resolved. I expect that we'll continue to work together."
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