Updated: Fri, 21 Dec 2012 15:33:53 GMT | By Michael O'Brien

Boehner's fiscal path forward: 'God only knows'



A path toward resolving the impending the co-called fiscal cliff was suspended in limbo Friday following a dramatic defeat for House Speaker John Boehner, whose own rank-and-file members refused to support his backup plan Thursday night.

After conservatives balked at Boehner's "Plan B," which would have preserved current income tax rates for those making less than $1 million, the nation's top elected Republican shrugged off questions about whether his job was in danger. And as Washington prepares for a holiday break, Democrats and Republicans are further apart than ever on a plan to avoid the combination of tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to take effect in just 11 days.

And the Ohio Republican emerged Friday urging President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats to re-engage in talks toward an overarching deal toward resolving the fiscal cliff, the combination of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts (which fall heavily upon the defense budget) set to take effect on Jan. 1.

"I'm interested in solving the major problems facing our country," Boehner said at a press conference on Capitol Hill. "And that means House leaders, Senate leaders and the president are going to continue to have to work together to address those concerns."

But the speaker's task has become more vexing than ever; conservatives sent a powerful signal yesterday that they would not approve any tax increase, even on millionaires. Obama's demand that tax rates be allowed to rise for the wealthiest Americans amounts to a seemingly intractable standoff with House Republicans.

Boehner said that many lawmakers still prefer broad reforms to the tax code, but he acknowledged the difficulty in reaching any consensus: "How we get there? God only knows."

The speaker seemed unconcerned, though, about the prospects for an uprising from fellow Republicans.

"No, I am not," Boehner said when asked directly whether he should be concerned about his position. "If you do the right things every day for the right reasons, the right things will happen."

Republican leaders dismissed House lawmakers for the holiday weekend after pulling the vote on Thursday evening. Boehner said they would be recalled to Washington "as needed." The Democratic-controlled Senate is currently scheduled to reconvene next Thursday, Dec. 27. 

The intervening time period might allow for Boehner and Obama to reach an agreement, though its final approval in the House would almost certainly involve the speaker turning to Democrats for votes. That would strengthen Obama's ability to insist upon tax rates, spending cuts and entitlement reforms that hew more closely to the plan on which he campaigned for much of this year. 

Boehner did express an openness to a Senate Democratic bill that would preserve tax rates for those earning less than $250,000 per year — Obama's original threshold at which he argued rates should be allowed to increase. The speaker said the House would "certainly take a look" at the plan if the Senate manages to resolve a procedural holdup that would bar the House from considering the legislation.

"I don't want taxes to go up, Republicans don't want taxes to go up," he said. "But we only run the House; Democrats continue to run Washington."

In the meanwhile, Boehner said he remained committed to working toward a deal, and said he was not interested in giving up his position as speaker. 

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