After stunning Washington Thursday night by abandoning his pursuit of a permanent tax cut for taxpayers earning up to $1 million per year, House Speaker John Boehner conceded today that with lawmakers heading home for Christmas, the path forward to addressing the " fiscal cliff" is unclear.
Last night the speaker succumbed to mounting pressure from within the House Republican conference and pulled his so-called " Plan B option" from the floor when it was clear it would not pass. But rather than blame the GOP rank and file, the speaker conceded the reality that Republicans don't control enough of Washington to have it completely their way.
"There was a perception created that that vote last night was going to increase taxes. Now, I disagree with that…characterization of the bill," he said. "But that impression was out there and we had a number of our members who just really didn't want to be perceived as having raised taxes."
"It's not the outcome that I wanted, but that was the will of the House," Boehner acknowledged. "Republicans don't want taxes to go up, but we only run the House. Democrats continue to run Washington."
The speaker said Republicans "are committed to working with our colleagues on both sides of the aisle, both sides of the Capitol and the White House" to strike an agreement to avert a wave of tax hikes and spending cuts set to take effect in just 11 days.
"At some point we're going to have to address the spending problem that we have, but we can't cut our way to prosperity. We need real economic growth," Boehner, R-Ohio, said. "Fundamental reform of our tax code will help us get our economy moving faster and put more Americans back to work and more Americans on the tax rolls. How we get there, God only knows."
Asked whether he would allow a vote in the House on President Obama's proposal to raise $1.3 trillion in new revenue while cutting $850 billion in spending, Boehner called on the Senate to act before the House makes its next move.
"The House has passed a bill to extend all the current tax rates. We did it on August 1; it's been sitting in the Senate. We passed a bill to replace the sequester. At some point, the United States Senate has to do something," Boehner said "What we were trying to do this week was to basically jump-start and try to kick into gear some action by the Senate to avert these tax increases going into effect on January 1st."
House Democrats have urged Boehner to allow a vote on a middle-class income tax cut for households earning up to $250,000 per year. The speaker emphasized that the House has already passed legislation to extend all tax cuts. If Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has a different solution, Boehner urged him to amend that House-passed legislation.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, standing beside the speaker in a display of unity in Republican leadership ranks, said the legislative snafu last night demonstrates that the GOP is "consistent in its commitment to doing something about the spending problem in Washington and the mounting debt."
"I told the president on Monday, these were my bottom lines. The president told me that his numbers - $1.3 trillion in new revenues, $850 billion in spending cuts - was his bottom line, that he couldn't go any further," Boehner said. "Because of the divide here in Washington, trying to bridge these differences has been difficult."
The disarray at the Capitol may signal another problem for Boehner: job security as speaker of the House. Boehner, however, made it clear today that despite the disorder in GOP ranks, he is not worried about a challenge.
"No, I'm not [concerned]," Boehner said. "If you do the right things every day for the right reasons, the right things will happen, and while we may have not been able to get the votes last night to avert 99.81 percent of the tax increases, I don't think - they weren't taking that out on me. They were dealing with the perception that somebody might accuse them of raising taxes."
As lawmakers are dismissed from the Capitol until after Christmas at the earliest, Boehner adamantly denied that he is walking away from negotiations with President Obama.
"Nobody ought to read anything into this," Boehner said about difficulties keeping his conference in line while simultaneously working to strike a deal with the president. "We've got differences, but the country's got big spending problems, and we've got to get serious about addressing it."