Stephen Dinan at the Washington Times reports:
House Speaker John A. Boehner on Wednesday dared President Obama to veto the Republican “Plan B” offer to avoid the “fiscal cliff” — higher tax rates on those making more than $1 million but tax cuts for everyone else — even as the president pleaded for cooperation rather than confrontation, saying he has already moved halfway.
The high-stakes game of chicken between the country’s top Republican and top Democrat comes with less than two weeks to go before the fiscal cliff, a quick succession of across-the-board tax increases and $110 billion in spending cuts that strike at the beginning of the new year.
Seeking to add some political leverage to a weak hand, Mr. Boehner will have the House vote Thursday on his Plan B, and he said he expects to have the votes to pass it despite a revolt among his conservative members. After that, he said, it will be Mr. Obama’s problem.
“The president will have a decision to make. He can call on the Senate Democrats to pass our bill or he can be responsible for the largest tax increase in American history,” Mr. Boehner said in a 50-second news conference where he took no questions.
President Obama said Wednesday that last week’s school shooting in Connecticut should push House Republicans to step back from a partisan battle, relent and pass his budget deal, which he said was a “balanced” approach.
In an impromptu press conference at the White House, Mr. Obama said he’s “gone at least halfway in meeting” some of the Republicans’ demands on the budget, and said it’s time House Speaker John A. Boehner take the deal that the White House has put on the table.
“Take the deal. They will be able to claim that they have worked with me over the last two years to reduce the deficit more than any other deficit-reduction package,” Mr. Obama said.
“Take the deal,” he urged the GOP, pointing to his own offer that would raise taxes on those making $400,000 or more — already a concession from his preferred $250,000 level — and would accept slower growth in Social Security benefits, but would also add in new unemployment benefits and another round of stimulus spending.
He said his plan matches tax increases dollar for dollar with spending cuts, though the Republicans disputed that, saying it amounted to $1.3 trillion in tax increases with only $930 billion in spending cuts.
“It is very hard for them to say yes to me,” the president said. “But at some point, they’ve got to take me out of it and think about their voters, and think about what’s best for the country.”
Both sides left room for further negotiations, and Mr. Obama said they are remarkably close on principle now that Mr. Boehner has signaled he is willing to raise tax rates on at least some taxpayers. The president said now both sides are just haggling over the right levels of spending cuts and tax increases.
That makes Thursday’s vote fraught with peril for Mr. Boehner. If Republicans don’t pass their bill, it will leave Mr. Boehner wounded, both with party colleagues and in his negotiations with Mr. Obama.
Conservatives in the House said they cannot support any tax rate increase, and conservative interest groups said they will penalize lawmakers who do vote for Mr. Boehner’s bill in their year-end scorecards.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp, Kansas Republican, said voting yes would violate his no-new-taxes pledge to his constituents.
“If I went home and told them — after taking pledge to not raise taxes — and voted for that, I would certainly deserve primary opposition, and my wife might be the first one to run,” he said.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the Republicans should not expect Democratic help and doubted Mr. Boehner can get his bill through.
“I think what we saw here earlier was really an act of desperation. It didn’t look like, to me, a person who had the votes,” she said.
Republicans were still tweaking the final version of their bill late Wednesday in order to try to win enough support.
Mr. Boehner says his plan will keep taxes low for 99.8 percent of taxpayers, and would amount to a $3.9 billion tax cut compared with the current law.
White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer faulted Mr. Boehner’s plan for what it left out: It does not extend unemployment benefits, it does not end the looming $110 billion in spending cuts, and it fails to boost payments for doctors who treat Medicare patients.
Republicans said their Plan B was not intended to solve the entire fiscal cliff, but rather to be a short-term solution to make sure tax rates didn’t rise for most Americans on Jan. 1.