WASHINGTON -- Democrats from the White House and beyond panned the new "Plan B" proposal of House Speaker John Boehner to avoid at least the tax portion of the fiscal cliff, but anti-tax GOP House members sounded cautiously optimistic about the idea of passing a measure that allows tax hikes only on income over $1 million.
Boehner said on Tuesday that he is working up the proposal in the event that he and President Barack Obama are unable to come to a broader agreement by the looming Dec. 31 deadline, after which automatic spending cuts and across-the-board tax increases will kick in. The Ohio Republican referred to his Plan B approach as a "backup plan," though he reiterated that he is continuing negotiations with the president on averting the so-called fiscal cliff.
White House spokesman Jay Carney later released a statement panning Plan B, saying that the sides should keep negotiating and that Plan B idea would not meet Obama's top priority of protecting middle-income earners.
"The Speaker's 'Plan B' approach doesn't meet this test because it can't pass the Senate and therefore will not protect middle class families, and does little to address our fiscal challenges with zero spending cuts," Carney said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) backed up that statement with one of his own, making a similar point.
"Speaker Boehner’s 'plan B' is the farthest thing from a balanced approach," Reid said. "It will not protect middle class families because it cannot pass both Houses of Congress. The Senate bill is the only 'plan B' that can be signed into law and prevent taxes from rising by $2,200 on the average middle-class family."
Democratic reaction in the House was also poor.
"I think it's more of a political ploy than it is a serious move forward," said Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). "I'm hopeful that we will not spend much time on a bill that is not going anywhere. And it is a shame with such precious few hours and days left that we would be distracted by an effort that doesn't solve the problem and doesn't have political votes to pass.
Yet the idea seemed to be picking up steam with Tea Party Republicans who have been adamantly opposed to raising any taxes.
"If the president will not address spending issues, then we've got to find a way to be able to protect Americans from a tax increase," said Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.), a Tea Party freshman, repeating points made by many of his colleagues after Boehner briefed them on the options. "At this point, rates are going up for everybody," noted Lankford.
Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), another Tea Party member of the class of 2010, praised the idea of shielding at least some people from tax hikes.
"That purpose, you know what, that makes sense," Kelly told The Huffington Post. "Because it's already law. It's going up Jan. 1 whether we like it or not. That wasn't our decision -- that was made 10 years. So what we're trying to address is a problem that was set in place 10 years ago."
"I think what [Boehner has] done is a very thoughtful and very logical approach," Kelly added.
While many Republicans warned that the "devil's in the details," they also made similar comments and predicted that Boehner would have support once those details were fleshed out and if, lacking any broader deal with Obama, he brought a measure to the House floor Thursday.
Boehner's Plan B would likely include patches for the alternative minimum tax, which is set to hit millions more Americans next year, and other expiring tax breaks.
While Democrats dismissed the proposal -- and some predicted privately that it would fail -- they would be faced with a difficult choice should the package pass. Many of them, led by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), have voted in the past to allow taxes to rise only on millionaires.
Boehner's office seemed keenly aware that passage of the backup plan could put Democrats, who want taxes to go up on incomes above $250,000, in a bind.
Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, said, "For years, Washington Democrats -- led by Sen. Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi -- have been calling for a bill to stop the tax hikes except on millionaires. They even voted in favor of it. To oppose it now would make them entirely responsible for the tax hikes that tens of millions of Americans face in less than two weeks. They know that, and the President knows that."
UPDATE: 5:41 p.m. -- Schumer spokesman Brian Fallon said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that the circumstances in which Democrats had backed a million-dollar income cap for tax cuts were different:
"Republicans should've taken Senator Schumer's offer two years ago when they had the chance. We've had an election on the President's tax plan, the President won, and Republicans can't turn the clock back. It's not surprising Republicans are having buyer's remorse, but we need higher revenues now. The more revenue we raise upfront through a tax rate increase on the wealthy, the less likely the middle class will get hit on the deduction side."
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) acknowledged there was a chance Boehner could get his Plan B passed in the House, but it didn't follow that the Senate would have to pass it.
"There's a chance that we'll substitute a $250,000 [cap] if it gets over here -- I hope a good chance," Levin said.