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First Thoughts: Is Boehner walking away -- again?

Is Boehner walking away -- again -- as House votes today on “Plan B”… But after the White House’s concessions on taxes and Social Security, doesn’t Boehner owe the White House a counteroffer?... Or is the White House pouting?... Obama promises post-Newtown proposals by January… NRA’s LaPierre to appear on “Meet” this Sunday… And more Benghazi fallout.

*** Is Boehner walking away -- again? In July 2011, at the height of the White House-GOP talks over the debt-ceiling debate, House Speaker John Boehner walked away from the negotiations. His side argued that President Obama and his team moved the goalposts; others have pointed out that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told Boehner that he and the GOP caucus couldn’t support any more counteroffers. But the bottom line is that Boehner walked away from the grand-bargain talks, and the White House let him walk. Now history seems to be repeating itself. After Boehner compromised last Friday to raise tax rates on income above $1 million, and after Obama compromised even further by raising his income threshold to $400,000 and putting Social Security cuts on the table, Boehner and House Republicans retreated to focus on “Plan B” -- a one-sided effort to raise rates above $1 million that Democrats NOW adamantly oppose. The House vote on the measure will take place today. "Tomorrow, the House will pass legislation to make permanent tax relief for nearly every American, 99.81% of the American people," Boehner said yesterday. "And then the president will have a decision to make: He can call on Senate Democrats to pass that bill, or he can be responsible for the largest tax increase in history."

House Speaker John Boehner is pushing for support for his "Plan B" bill, which would raise taxes only on Americans making more than $1 million a year. Meanwhile, a bipartisan budget deal could mean higher Medicare premiums for seniors making more than $85,000 a year. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.

*** Does Boehner owe the White House a response? So House Republicans -- for a third-straight day -- are focused on passing legislation that will never become law. They argue they have to do something, however, so the Senate can send a response; they are very aware that what they pass today will NOT be the law but a framework for a fallback. But it’s uncertain that Plan B is going to get enough Republican votes to clear the House today. Consequently, per NBC’s Frank Thorp, House GOP leaders will vote on a separate measure today to restore the automatic defense cuts in the sequester and cut an additional $200 billion in spending as a way to get more GOP support. Yet such a move will only further alienate Democrats and the Obama White House. Here’s the reality of the situation: It’s Boehner’s turn to offer a counterproposal. Boehner compromised on the $1 million level, and Obama compromised even further by raising his threshold to $400,000 and putting Social Security (“chained CPI) on the table. But then talks stopped?

Joshua Roberts / Reuters

House Speaker John Boehner walks from a meeting with House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) on Capitol Hill in Washington December 19, 2012.

*** Or is the White House pouting? The White House is telegraphing the fact that it wants to keep negotiating, but Republicans claim that’s purely for show and that behind the scenes the White House has refused to reach out since Boehner announced his Plan B. The big reason Boehner walked away to focus on Plan B -- the White House’s refusal to lower their revenue target from $1.2 trillion. Supposedly, if the White House got closer to $1 trillion (even $1.1 trillion) and included 1-to-1 spending cuts BEFORE counting interest, Boehner would agree. Folks, if they are really thisclose and not thatfaraway, then it does seem silly they can’t bridge this gap. Still, one has to be realistic and put themselves in Boehner’s shoes and ask just what is the political upside for him to cut a deal? It’s actually not that evident.

MSNBC's Joe Scarborough asks the Morning Joe panel why after all the sacrifices on behalf of President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner can't the bases compromise on a deal to avert the fiscal cliff.

*** Will Obama and Boehner see each other today? As we wrote yesterday, there is so much speculation over the motives of Plan B. Is it to gain more leverage over the White House? To kill the grand bargain? Or to make a point to House Republicans -- if Plan B doesn’t pass -- that they don’t have a better option than Obama’s last counteroffer. Whatever the rationale, the optics for Boehner don’t look good. Still, there’s a chance that the House speaker and Obama see each other today. (One potential opportunity could be when both men pay their respects to the late Sen. Daniel Inouye on Capitol Hill today.) But if they don’t see each other today? Well, brace yourselves for going over the cliff.

House Speaker John Boehner is now spending a third day working to pass his Plan B bill, which has zero chance of becoming a law and zero chance of becoming party of any final budget deal. The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd reports.

*** Obama promises post-Newtown proposals by next month: Besides the debate over the fiscal cliff, the other big story out there is Obama’s announcement yesterday that he has created a task force in the wake of the tragic Newtown shootings. And the president promised this wouldn’t be your ordinary slow-walking commission. “That’s why I’ve asked the vice president to lead an effort that includes members of my cabinet and outside organizations to come up with a set of concrete proposals no later than January -- proposals that I then intend to push without delay. This is not some Washington commission. This is not something where folks are going to be studying the issue for six months and publishing a report that gets read and then pushed aside. This is a team that has a very specific task, to pull together real reforms right now.”

*** LaPierre to appear on “Meet”: Speaking of Newtown, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre is set to appear on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. This appearance will come after the NRA’s scheduled press conference for tomorrow.

*** More Benghazi fallout: Lastly, two of Hillary Clinton’s deputies are testifying on Capitol Hill today -- before the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs committees -- regarding the new independent report on the Benghazi attack. Clinton IS NOT appearing due to illness and a concussion she sustained. However, as NBC’s Andrea Mitchell has reported, Clinton is expected to testify on Benghazi next month, although that testimony is dependent on the congressional schedule. Meanwhile, NBC’s Catherine Chomiak has noted that four State Department officials resigned or were relieved of their duties in the wake of that Benghazi report. Heads had to roll.

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