Republicans pulled their Plan B tax bill from the House floor late Thursday, announcing that they lacked the votes to pass it and won’t return to Washington until after Christmas. The White House may chortle that the GOP is in disarray, and it is, but this failure to govern also owes much to President Obama’s failure to negotiate with any degree of seriousness. If Washington now goes off the tax cliff, Mr. Obama may not enjoy the plunge as much as some of his partisans believe.
Speaker John Boehner defaulted to Plan B as a last resort after weeks of failed negotiations with the White House. First he offered to raise revenue by $800 billion through tax reform, but Mr. Obama insisted on raising tax rates. When Mr. Boehner finally cracked on raising rates, at an income threshold of $1 million, Mr. Obama still said no.
The President also wanted more spending immediately, not less, and he offered no specific entitlement reform beyond a change in how inflation is measured in adjusting tax brackets and federal transfer payments. Oh, and he wanted the national debt limit lifted permanently.
To put this in raw political terms, Mr. Boehner offered to break a core GOP principle on taxes and Mr. Obama offered him nothing he could take back to his rank-and-file in return. Mr. Boehner is a political leader, not a dictator, and he needs to persuade Members, not beat them into submission.