CAPITOL HILL— Republican U.S. House Speaker John Boehner has suffered a major setback in his showdown over taxes and spending with President Barack Obama. The speaker unexpectedly failed to get the votes he needed from his own Republican lawmakers Thursday to hold a vote on a tax bill he had proposed as an alternative to the tax and spending bill put forward by President Obama. Thursday's developments have thrown efforts to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff" even more into chaos.
There was high drama on Capitol Hill Thursday night, as House Speaker John Boehner tried to push through his own alternative tax cut and spending cuts bills to avert the so-called fiscal cliff. Boehner's spending cuts bill passed by a narrow majority, but he suddenly withdrew plans for a vote on his tax cut bill, citing a "lack of support." His tax bill would have raised taxes only on the annual incomes of those earning more than $1 million a year. Boehner left the Capitol without talking to reporters,
Analysts say the tax cut bill would have been symbolic anyway, because Senate Democrats had made clear they would not even bring the measure up for debate. Earlier in the day, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Boehner's bills are going nowhere.
"Until Republicans take up our bill in the House, the one that has passed here, there is nothing to discuss. We are not taking up any of the things that they are working on over there now," Reid said.
Senate Democrats have already passed a bill that would raise taxes on incomes higher than $250,000, and they say that is the bill they want from Boehner.
Negotiations between Boehner and the president have been suspended for several days. Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor indicated late Thursday that there will be no more votes in the House until after the Christmas holiday.
Before Thursday's developments, President Obama had rejected Boehner's bills and called on him to come back to the negotiating table before time runs out.
Veteran political analyst Larry Sabato said the current standoff between Speaker Boehner and President Obama reflects a deeper divide in the country.
“This is a reflection of the deep polarization that exists in America and the fact that the two parties really have very little in common. It’s not just a personal thing between President Obama and Speaker Boehner. It’s more that they represent two clearly distinct philosophies of government and it’s awfully difficult to compromise your basic principles,” Sabato said.
Throughout the long debate on taxes and spending, Democrats have insisted on raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans, and Republicans have insisted on significant cuts to social programs that Democrats hold dear. Now, with the Christmas holiday and the end of the year approaching, there is no clear path forward for a compromise. Economists have said the combination of massive tax increases and spending cuts could throw the U.S. economy back into recession.