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Boehner's fiscal path forward: 'God only knows'

 

Updated 1:19 p.m. — A path toward resolving the impending the co-called fiscal cliff was suspended in limbo Friday following a dramatic defeat for House Speaker John Boehner, whose own rank-and-file members refused to support his backup plan Thursday night.

After conservatives balked at Boehner's "Plan B," which would have preserved current income tax rates for those making less than $1 million, the nation's top elected Republican shrugged off questions about whether his job was in danger. And as Washington prepares for a holiday break, Democrats and Republicans are further apart than ever on a plan to avoid the combination of tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to take effect in just 11 days.

And the Ohio Republican emerged Friday urging President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats to re-engage in talks toward an overarching deal toward resolving the fiscal cliff, the combination of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts (which fall heavily upon the defense budget) set to take effect on Jan. 1.

"I'm interested in solving the major problems facing our country," Boehner said at a press conference on Capitol Hill. "And that means House leaders, Senate leaders and the president are going to continue to have to work together to address those concerns."

With just 10 days until the nation goes over the so-called "fiscal cliff," lawmakers head home for the holidays. For the president, his stay in Hawaii will be a "working vacation." NBC's Kristen Welker reports.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., demanded that Boehner allow a Democratic proposal to extend tax rates for income under $250,000 to come up for a vote.

"There's nothing preventing the speaker from taking up our bill," Reid said Friday afternoon on the Senate floor. Boehner did say the House would "certainly take a look" at that bill, if the Senate manages to resolve a procedural holdup that would bar the House from considering the legislation. (Reid called that excuse "phony.")

But the speaker's task has become more vexing than ever; conservatives sent a powerful signal yesterday that they would not approve any tax increase, even on millionaires. Obama's demand that tax rates be allowed to rise for the wealthiest Americans amounts to a seemingly intractable standoff with House Republicans.

Boehner said that many lawmakers still prefer broad reforms to the tax code, but he acknowledged the difficulty in reaching any consensus: "How we get there? God only knows."

The president plans to work with Congress to prevent tax hikes and spending cuts that are expected to kick in on January 1 after House Republicans rejected a vote on House Speaker John Boehner's "Plan B" legislation. NBC's Kelly O'Donnell reports.

The speaker seemed unconcerned, though, about the prospects for an uprising from fellow Republicans.

"No, I am not," Boehner said when asked directly whether he should be concerned about his position. "If you do the right things every day for the right reasons, the right things will happen."

Republican leaders dismissed House lawmakers for the holiday weekend after pulling the vote on Thursday evening. Boehner said they would be recalled to Washington "as needed." The Democratic-controlled Senate is currently scheduled to reconvene next Thursday, Dec. 27. 

"It's too bad Speaker Boehner wasted a week on this futile, political stunt," Reid said. "It's time for the speaker and all Republicans to return to the negotiating table."

The intervening time period might allow for Boehner and Obama to reach an agreement, though its final approval in the House would almost certainly involve the speaker turning to Democrats for votes. That would strengthen Obama's ability to insist upon tax rates, spending cuts and entitlement reforms that hew more closely to the plan on which he campaigned for much of this year. 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Boehner has "done his part. He's bent over backwards." As an alternative, the top Senate Republican proposed extending tax rates for a full year with instructions to enact tax reform in the meanwhile. (Democrats rejected it out-of-hand.)

For their part, Republicans said they would look to Obama for action on a path forward.

"I don't want taxes to go up, Republicans don't want taxes to go up," Boehner said. "But we only run the House; Democrats continue to run Washington."

McConnell said: "It's the president's job — it's his job — to find a solution that can pass the Congress."

In the meanwhile, Boehner said he remained committed to working toward a deal, and said he was not interested in giving up his position as speaker.