`Largest Tax Increase in History:’ One Author, or Two Brinkmen?

Photograph by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, center, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Republican from Virginia, during a news conference in Washington on Dec. 18, 2012.

House Speaker John Boehner is trying to turn the tax tables.

At first, it was President Barack Obama who was promising a bill that protects 98 percent of the American public from tax increases when the Bush-era tax cuts expire at year’s end. He proposed raising taxes only for households earning more than $250,000 a year.

Now, it is Boehner who is holding out a bill that protects 99.81 percent of the American public from tax increases at year’s end. After refusing to talk about tax increases for anyone, Boehner has proposed limiting the effect of the Bush-era tax-cut repeals to those making more than $1 million a year.

For several weeks, talks between the two had been going fairly well. Both had come off of their positions. Each had moved closer toward a middle figure of tax revenue and spending cuts. The two had met, either in person or by phone, five times since Dec. 5. Then, after Obama this week proposed raising that tax-increase protection to households making more than $400,000 a year, and adding several other public details to talks that had been guardedly private, Boehner shifted to “Plan B.”

Boehner’s fallback may be designed to force Obama’s hand:

The House will pass a bill tomorrow raising taxes only for those making more than $1 million a year, Boehner said today. “Then the president will have a decision to make,” the speaker said at the briefest of public appearances in the Capitol. He can call on the Senate’s Democrats to pass the bill — “or he will be responsible for the largest tax increase in American history.” Everyone’s taxes will go up Jan 1.

Of course, the Senate won’t pass “Plan B.” And the White House today added that, even if it did pass, the president would veto it.

So who’s hand is really forced?

Should Boehner pass Plan B, he’ll still face a president who apparently is ready to let the “fiscal cliff”’ come — Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has made that clear from the start. Should he fail to win the votes needed for a tax increase in the House whose Republicans never wanted one, he’ll join the president in permitting “the largest tax increase in American history” to happen Jan. 1. Then, as the markets reel, both can return with a new Congress on Jan. 3 and roll back taxes for either 98 percent or 99.81 percent of Americans.

Which is something they could also agree to do before the cliff.

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