I've come to the conclusion that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is going to have a very difficult time making any deal with the Democrats during the lame duck session on taxes and spending – that is, on preventing the fiscal cliff – and still remain as speaker in the next Congress. That means that avoiding the fiscal cliff will be far harder than any analysis of the situation has dared to conclude.
Yes, this assumes that Republicans will keep the majority in the House next year and, therefore, that the GOP will be picking one of its own as speaker. But just consider what would happen if the following occurs.
This scenario makes a deal to avert the fiscal cliff far less likely than anyone is assuming. Indeed, if the White House doesn’t cave to GOP demands, it almost seems as if Boehner will have to let the fiscal cliff happen to keep his job. It also seems to indicate that the most likely agreement will be one that stops the cliff from being implemented fully through the year after it has been triggered.
There are a number of reasons why this scenario might not play out.
For example, a total capitulation to the GOP by the White House might be more likely than it current seems. After all, the administration did that before when it came to letting the tax cuts expire in 2010.
Or Romney might get elected and the GOP will go with Boehner because it will assume that it will be able to fix what it doesn’t like after the inauguration.
Or the tea party wing will realize that not supporting Boehner when the House convenes in January wouldn’t make a great deal of sense because that could mean that the Democratic nominee would get the greatest number of votes and be elected speaker. That might force the tea party wing to have to decide who it dislikes more: Boehner or Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
To avoid this, the GOP caucus would have to make it clear to Boehner before the formal vote that he does not have enough support to be elected and, therefore, should step aside. The question at that point would be whether Boehner would have the testicular fortitude to play extreme political hardball, not withdraw and dare his own party to vote against him.
And it’s certainly also possible that after the election Boehner will become a much stronger speaker than he has been over the past two years and figure out a way to get the GOP caucus to go along with a compromise before the fiscal cliff occurs. On the one hand, he succeeded in doing something like that a few weeks ago when he convinced his caucus to vote for the fiscal 2013 continuing resolution with a higher spending level than many in the tea party wing wanted. On the other hand, Boehner was rolled repeatedly over the past two years by the tea party on taxing and spending issues and it may revert back to that previous take-no-prisoners attitude once the election is over.
Bottom line: The odds of the fiscal cliff happening are greater than most people are currently willing to admit.