12/20/2012 01:27 pm ET Updated Dec 20, 2012

John Boehner Plan B Gamble Could Hinge On Democratic Votes

WASHINGTON -- As House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) scrambles to line up the 217 votes he needs to move his "Plan B" through the lower chamber, the outcome could hinge on a few wavering Democrats.

On Wednesday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a notoriously accurate vote-counter, promised reporters that "Plan B will not pass as a result of Democratic votes." In other words, some Democrats might vote for Boehner's plan to extend the Bush-era tax cuts on all income under a million dollars, but not if that means the bill would have come up short otherwise.

"I think what we saw here earlier was really an act of desperation," Pelosi said of Boehner. "It didn’t look like, to me, a person who had the votes."

Republicans can afford to lose 24 of their members and pass the bill without Democratic support. But there is substantial uncertainty about the vote count. A source close to Boehner described the leadership as "cautiously optimistic."

Republican leadership is hoping for Democratic support, reasoning that this could be the only chance a lawmaker might have to vote to stave off a tax hike. Democrats such as Reps. Ben Chandler (Ky.), Gerry Connolly (Va.), Jim Matheson (Utah), Dan Boren (Okla.) and John Barrow (Ga.) are hopeful "yes" votes for Republicans. "They don't get a [motion to] recommit because we're amending a Senate amendment to a House bill," said an aide, referring to a procedural move that will block Democrats from offering an alternative measure, noting that give Democrats "just one chance to take an affirmative position on preventing tax increases."

But Democrats insist they'll hold firm, with a leadership aide saying only that "not many" Democrats will break ranks. Meanwhile, enough Republicans might decamp to beat the plan back or force Boehner to pull it from the floor. "Why would a Republican who is against any tax increases vote for the Boehner tax plan now, when he may have the opportunity not to vote at all?" one Democratic operative wondered. "If there's a deal, there'll be Democrats involved, so they'll need many fewer Republican votes."

Why, then, is Boehner pushing for the vote? Whether it's intended or not, Boehner's push for a vote on tax hikes for people making more than a million dollars could serve as a tax icebreaker. When Boehner ultimately reaches a deal with Obama, it will be harder for Tea Partiers to oppose tax hikes on principle if they've already voted for one -- calling to mind the famous line often ascribed to Winston Churchill during a different sort of negotiation: "We've already established that. Now we're just haggling over the price."



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