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Boehner Moves Forward With ‘Plan B’ Despite Doubts About Passage

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio; photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, talks to reporters at the Capitol on Wednesday. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters.

The Morning Line

The latest chapter in the real-life drama that is the fiscal cliff will play out on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday when lawmakers vote on Speaker John Boehner’s “Plan B” proposal that would extend current tax rates for households earning less than $1 million a year.

On Wednesday, Boehner vowed the measure would be approved.

“Tomorrow, the House will pass legislation to make permanent tax relief for nearly every American — 99.81 percent of the American people. And then the president will have a decision to make: He can call on Senate Democrats to pass that bill, or he can be responsible for the largest tax increase in American history,” the Ohio Republican said during a brief statement to reporters on Capitol Hill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said the plan stands no chance of passing both chambers of Congress, and the White House released a statement on Wednesday indicating that President Obama would veto the measure in the unlikely event it reached his desk.

Before it gets to that point, however, Boehner must first come up with the 217 votes needed to clear the legislation through the House, which appears far from certain.

The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe reports that Boehner could be seen glad-handing GOP members on the floor Wednesday:

Though his conversations were inaudible to reporters in the House gallery, Boehner’s body language said it all: He was eagerly seeking out wavering colleagues that might not join him tomorrow in voting for the plan.

The Post’s team of Paul Kane and Rosalind Helderman, meanwhile, look at the stakes for Boehner with Thursday’s vote in the House:

If it fails there, congressional leaders fear it would leave Boehner politically debilitated and possibly unable to rally Republican support for a subsequent bipartisan deal with Obama, perhaps in January.

Democrats are not expected to lend Boehner a single vote, at least not until he shows he can deliver a majority from within his own ranks. Boehner is able to lose up to two dozen Republicans and still pass the measure strictly with GOP votes. But he had already seen more than 10 House conservatives defect by Wednesday evening over their opposition to tax increases. Boehner tried to mollify Republicans concerned that his plan would not avert military cuts by planning a second vote on legislation to shield the Pentagon budget from automatic reductions.

A member of the GOP whip team told Roll Call “they tried to sell the plan by telling lawmakers that Obama and congressional Democrats made a political calculation to go off the fiscal cliff, allowing tax rates to go up and deep spending cuts known as sequestration to kick in starting Jan. 2, because the American public would blame Republicans.”

As Boehner and his team tally votes, the Hill also has a count going, with at least 11 Republicans firm or leaning no,and more than two dozen GOP members up in the air.

Conservatives outside the Capitol are also taking sides. The Club for Growth and Heritage Action both declared their opposition to Boehner’s plan on Wednesday, while anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, author of the “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” gave the proposal his blessing.

Boehner’s decision to move forward with a vote Thursday marks a sudden departure from what had seemed a path toward an agreement, with the president and the speaker trading fresh offers and closing the gap on targets for both revenue and spending cuts.

Addressing reporters in the White House briefing room on Wednesday, Mr. Obama urged Republicans to “take the deal.” He also suggested some of the opposition to his proposal was based in part on an unwillingness to “say yes” to him.

“Frankly, up until about a couple of days ago, if you looked at it, the Republicans in the House and Speaker Boehner, I think, were in a position to say, we’ve gotten a fair deal,” Mr. Obama. “The fact that they haven’t taken it yet is puzzling.”

The president also evoked the devastation from Hurricane Sandy and last week’s shooting massacre in Connecticut to press lawmakers to act. “When you think about what we’ve gone through over the last couple of months — a devastating hurricane, and now one of the worst tragedies in our memory — the country deserves folks to be willing to compromise on behalf of the greater good and not tangle themselves up in a whole bunch of ideological positions that don’t make much sense.”

With the year-end deadline just 11 days away and prospects for a deal dimming, senators were preparing for an inevitable return to Washington after Christmas.

Watch remarks by Mr. Obama and Boehner here or below:

[ DUE TO RIGHTS RESTRICTIONS, VIDEO IS NO LONGER AVAILABLE ]

NEWTOWN LATEST

Although Mr. Obama spent most of Wednesday’s impromptu news conference discussing the fiscal cliff, he explained his philosophy behind the coalition created to prevent future tragedies in the aftermath of the shooting in Newtown, Conn., which will be led by Vice President Biden.

Mr. Obama said the nation has a “deep obligation to try” and that “words need to lead to action,” regardless of the politics. “The fact that this problem is complex can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing,” he told reporters in the room named for James S. Brady, President Reagan’s press secretary who shot by a would-be assassin in 1981.

Biden’s task is to give Mr. Obama a set of proposals in January that the president said he would “push right away” and mention in his State of the Union address. Mr. Obama said he doesn’t view this as a study commission that will issue a report. “This is a team that has a very specific task to pull together real reforms right now,” he said.

Biden is getting right to work, with a meeting planned for Thursday with law enforcement leaders, White House staff, Attorney General Eric Holder, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.

Duncan was in Newtown on Wednesday for the memorial service for slain Sandy Hook Elementary principal Dawn Hochsprung. He delivered this video message in honor of the educators killed last week.

Soon after the president spoke, the Virginia Citizens Defense League put out a newsletter to its members Wednesday declaring, “This may well be the biggest fight for gun rights in our lifetimes.”

The bottom line is that the group wants to “get guns into the hands of adults at schools,” a proposal that GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell has said he is open to considering. VCDL will hold protests and rallies and told members it “will not be a campaign for the timid.”

A new CNN poll showed 52 percent favor restrictions on guns or making all guns illegal.

The NewsHour led Wednesday’s program with Mr. Obama’s announcement, and Gwen Ifill followed that with a discussion with Illinois Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, whose efforts to ban concealed weapons in his state were thwarted by the courts.

From their exchange:

PAT QUINN: I think that just should be an alarm bell to all of us that we must prohibit the sale and possession in the future of assault weapons, as well as high-capacity ammunition magazines. This law that was passed in 1994, that unfortunately expired in 2004, here we are in the 21st century.

Let’s get it done in the best traditions of Abraham Lincoln’s democracy. Abraham Lincoln believed in government of the people. I think a strong majority of people in our country, definitely our state, favor this reform law, and it’s time we got to get it done for the people.

GWEN IFILL: But I guess what I’m asking, finally, is why — how do you know there won’t be backlash to this sort of new — these sort of new controls?

PAT QUINN: There’s always going to be some that don’t favor a reform, don’t favor any kind of step forward in public safety, and they maybe make, in my opinion, specious arguments against that. But I think the overwhelming majority of American citizens, after what we saw last Friday, and I think all of us saw in America the good people coming together to say, enough is enough. It’s time that we take action, that we be heard, not just an interest group, but, rather, the common good represented by the great majority of Americans.

Watch Gwen’s interview with Quinn here or below:

In a related story, Roll Call’s Shira Toeplitz reports that gun violence is playing heavily in the special election to replace Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson in Chicago.

Ray Suarez followed Gwen’s discussion with a debate between UCLA School of Law’s Adam Winkler and economist John Lott. Watch that here or below:

LINE ITEMS

  • “Inaugural officials are planning more staff, signs and metal detectors to prevent the pedestrian jams that clogged the National Mall” during Mr. Obama’s first inauguration, reports Nedra Pickler at the Associated Press. That includes the closure of the “purple tunnel of doom” that trapped so many attendees in 2009.

  • The Hill’s Erik Wasson reports that Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., will not take over as chair of the Appropriations Committee following the passing of Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii. That means Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., gets the plum slot. It also means Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., won’t assume the gavel of the Judiciary Committee.

  • Add ousted Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., to the list of members suddenly supportive of a federal ban on assault weapons.

  • Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., will join the German Marshall Fund after his term is up in January.

  • Hawaii Democratic Rep. Colleen Hanabusa will put her name in to be as candidate for the appointment to fill the Senate seat held by Inouye, whose dying wish was to see her named to replace him.

  • Nathan Gonzales reports for Roll Call that South Carolina GOP Sen. Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund is not replacing him,and is “willfully moving on without a leader.”

  • Senators are not happy about the new film “Zero Dark Thirty,” with Feistein calling the Hollywood version depicting the Osama bin Laden raid “dangerous.”

  • The Washington Post’s T.W. Farnam takes a close look at fundraising that started up right after Election Day.

  • Watch Mr. Obama’s full statement and news conference here or below.

NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

  • Judy Woodruff sat down with retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., to get his take on the massacre in his home state and how he feels about leaving Congress after 24 years. The independent endorsed one colleague for a Cabinet post and said he isn’t so sure about the other.

Watch Judy’s interview with Lieberman in full here or below.

  • P.J. Tobia interviewed Libyan journalist Osama Alfitory, who was outside the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11 and witnessed the attacks that killed four Americans including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Here is his story.

  • Our look at the Benghazi report.

  • Foreign Affairs desk assistant Geoffrey Lou Guray profiles South Korea’s first female president.

  • Kaiser Health News looks at mental health coverage in America.

  • Jenny Marder’s latest science blog looks at chimps getting moved into retirement and, among other things, why Rudolph’s nose is red.

TOP TWEETS

Katelyn Polantz and Jessica Fink contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

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