Boehner’s View from Bottom of Cliff

Photograph by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, right, walks out of a House Republican caucus meeting at the Capitol on Jan. 1, 2013.

Updated at 10:50 and 11:10 am EST

In the end, it’s on John Boehner.

The speaker of the Republican-run House couldn’t convince his own party to accept his own alternative to the year-end tax increases which now have technically taken effect, if for only a day or few. Now he faces the task of convincing his House to match the Senate on its early-morning, bipartisan New Year’s vote for new taxes.

In the end, the contours of a deal were drawn without him: Vice President Joe Biden, president of the Senate and a longtime veteran of that body, hashed out an agreement with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, an old colleague who, remember, had vowed to do everything in his power to prevent President Barack Obama from winning re-election.

Obama won, repeatedly reminding everyone since that he campaigned with a vow to tax the top-earning Americans harder and spare everyone else from the higher income tax rates which, technically, took effect after midnight. The Senate’s bill raises income tax and investment income rates on households earning more than $450,000 a year.

The agreement reached by Biden and McConnell somewhat amazingly drew next to no opposition in the Senate, save for a few who reserved for themselves the right to say they never bought this thing: Three Democrats voted against the measure: Michael Bennet of Colorado, Tom Harkin of Iowa and Tom Carper of Delaware. They were joined by five Republicans who voted no: Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Mike Lee of Utah, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida and Richard Shelby of Alabama. Senators such as Rubio and Paul are likely to save that claim for the next big political race each faces.

And that leaves Boehner precious little room for political cover.

In the end, the speaker has pledged to hear the Senate’s bill in the House — without promising to pass it unamended. Should the House amend the deal substantially, it runs the risk of no agreement at all. The lame-duck Congress has two-and-a-half days left. Thursday afternoon, it will be succeeded by one with more Democrats in it.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a South Florida Democrat and chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said today the Senate’s bill will earn an “overwhelming majority of Democratic votes.” She said in an appearance on MSNBC: “We have a balanced plan here in front of us.”

That leaves Boehner’s Republicans even less cover — and more responsibility for failure.

Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma is among the Republicans who have been calling for a compromise on taxes for some time. Now is the time, he said today.

“It’s a measured victory, it’s not a complete victory, it’s  a compromise, each side got something,” Cole said this morning on MSNBC as House Republicans prepared to caucus after noon. “I can walk away from this one thinking we’ve got a very good deal. We ought to take this deal right now.”

Boehner is standing at the bottom of what so many have readily called a “fiscal cliff” — the metaphor coined by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. The Fed chairman and Congressional Budget Office alike have warned of the economic consequences of taking this standoff too far.

The stock market liked what it heard of an impending agreement yesterday. The markets are closed today. They will reopen tomorrow to one kind of news, or another.

“Putting to bed this thing before the markets is really a pretty important thing to do,” Cole added today.

The White House and Senate have thrown the speaker a long rope.

In the end, it’s on him and his House to take it.

Roger Runningen contributed the comments from Congress on MSNBC. 

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