Combined wire reports
WASHINGTON — House Speaker John A. Boehner abruptly called off a vote on his "Plan B" tax proposal late Thursday, a stunning political defeat after GOP leaders failed to round up support for his alternative to a broader budget deal with President Barack Obama.
Boehner's bill, which would have prevented a year-end tax increase for all but those earning more than $1 million a year, "did not have sufficient support from our members to pass," the Ohio Republican said in a statement before he quickly left the Capitol.
"Now it is up to the president," he said, to work with the Senate "to avert the fiscal cliff."
The sudden turn of events turns the focus back to the White House with little time remaining to craft a year-end deal. At the same time, the support from Republican leaders for a tax hike on the wealthiest Americans has cracked the party's anti-tax orthodoxy and opened the door to renewed talks on a solution to the fiscal stalemate.
The two sides had been closing in on a broad deficit-reduction deal to steer around the coming fiscal cliff, but Boehner abruptly changed course this week to gauge the sentiment of his House Republicans. Without a compromise, most Americans will see their taxes automatically rise and spending cuts ripple across the economy in the new year.
As the speaker and his top lieutenants trolled on and off the House floor Thursday in search of votes, buttonholing lawmakers in scenes like those in the hit movie "Lincoln," White House press secretary Jay Carney dismissed Boehner's Plan B as a "multi-day exercise in futility."
In his most recent offer to the speaker, Obama had made a substantial concession: a proposal to raise taxes only on household income above $400,000, rather than $250,000, the threshold the president had campaigned on for re-election.
HOUSE APPROVES DEFENSE BILL: The House on Thursday overwhelmingly passed a $633 billion defense bill for next year despite Pentagon complaints that it spares outdated but politically popular weapons at the expense of the military's ability to fight.
The vote was 315-107 and sent the legislation to the Senate, where leaders hoped to wrap up the measure. The White House had threatened a veto of earlier versions of the bill, and spokesman Jay Carney said Thursday that the threat still stands.
NATIONAL SECURITY BILL STALLS: The government's authority to intercept electronic communications of foreigners — both spies and terrorist targets — will expire at year's end unless the Senate extends a law that is under challenge from a bipartisan group of senators.
In a case in which national security bumps up against privacy, more than a dozen senators say they're concerned that conversations and emails of Americans are swept up in the monitoring.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid struggled Thursday to get the five-year extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act before the Senate, but those questioning the law blocked any action until they could get votes on their proposals to modify the bill.
OBAMA PLANS JUST 2 BALLS: Obama is restricting the inaugural balls to the lowest number in 60 years, with just two official parties plus a concert honoring military families.