Boehner’s Self-Fulfilling Plan B

Personally, my favorite part of John Boehner’s “Plan B” is how exquisitely it exposes the low cost of hypocrisy in politics. Last year, Dems were fighting amongst themselves over whether the threshold for extending the Bush tax cuts should be set at $1 million or $250,000. Today, a $1 million threshold is a non-starter. (Yes, an election interceded, but let’s not pretend Chuck Schumer preferred the $1 million threshold for purely political reasons).

On the other side of that coin, Republicans are now claiming “Plan B” — which would lock in the Bush tax cuts for income under $1 million — is a huge tax cut. But of course, if that’s a tax cut, so is setting the threshold at $250,000, which Republicans have spent the last year describing as a huge tax increase on small businesses.

But on a strategic level, I think Boehner’s plan, while clever, is also risky — if in fact his goal is to cut a deal with President Obama.The conceit is that if fiscal cliff talks fall apart, Republicans, by passing Plan B, will have scrambled the CW that they’re only interested in protecting millions and billionaires. That’ll hand at least partial ownership of going over the cliff to Democrats — and thus, perhaps, convince Obama to concede a little more.

The risk, as I see it, is that if Plan B passes (still a big if) it’ll be hard for Boehner to return to the negotiating table at all. His conference will have just overwhelmingly thrown its weight behind a much tamer plan, and in the process Republicans will have taken a huge leap of faith, 20 years in the making — knowingly voting to raise taxes.

How can he go back to them a few days later and say, “Just kidding guys, that was a practice run. The real deal has way higher taxes!” I don’t see it going over very well.

Of course, if Plan B fails on the floor, Boehner’s going to have to choose between the cliff and Obama’s outstretched hand. And perhaps for that reason, deep down, he wants it to fail. But there are some restive conservatives in his conference who will be supporting Plan B, as the lowest-cost way of getting the tax issue off the table altogether, so they can pivot as quickly as possible to the debt limit.

It would be a huge irony, but if that bloc of Republicans casts the decisive votes for Plan B, tax increase and all, we’ll be in new, uncertain territory.