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Boehner's not in jeopardy; Cantor's playing the long game; 'Debacle' for GOP

Boehner not at risk of losing speakership - Cantor playing the long game .... All this sets up an even bigger fight - triple jeopardy in just a couple months ... the "debacle" for the Republican Party ... a tax hike or tax cut? ... Simpson-Bowles see "missed opportunity" ... You want him to do what to himself? ... Bill goes to Hawaii ... Outrage over Sandy funding ... and what about guns?

ANALYSIS: Some are making a lot of the vote split between House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor. But the reality is less Machiavellian politics and more long-term maneuvering.

What it showed more than anything isn’t some deep rift within the conference or that Boehner’s speakership is in jeopardy. It isn’t a coup against Boehner. It shows that Boehner sees the light at the end of the tunnel of his career and would prefer to be more of a pragmatist and deal maker – but his conference won’t allow him to be that. That pragmatic streak is in the minority of the House GOP.

Cantor and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, on the other hand, are going to be around for a while, and if they want to be leaders of the conference in the House, perhaps even speaker, and want to have any political clout, they have to stand with the influential conservative base.

Cantor has stood with Boehner through much of this fight and others in the past year, and that’s because he cannot alienate Boehner allies. Many establishment conservative will still be around – and be a significant voting bloc – when Boehner retires, whenever that will be.

The big campaign for speaker -- at some point -- could come between Cantor and Paul Ryan, who might -- or might not -- run for president in 2016. Ryan, by the way, voted yes last night, unlike Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), widely thought to be eyeing a 2016 bid.

The roll call… Boomark it! GOP primary opportunists will comb this list. It’s going to be their TARP to run on.

What now? Dates to watch…

TRIPLE JEOPARDY (H/T NBC’s Mike Viqueira for the headline and Essa Yip for the dates)
Late Feb/early March – Debt ceiling
March 1 - Sequester
March 27 – Budget resolution

(*Note to pithy catch-phrase writers, please refrain from using “March Madness” for the next fiscal showdown. New Year’s was already ruined with talks of rocky abysses, can we preserve what is a sacred time for some of us?)

'Debacle for the Republican Party'... Chuck Todd on TODAY:

“What’s coming in March with what they’ve done, and, by the way, they’ve done this to themselves now multiple times. I mean, this is the story, this 112th Congress does leave us today, and some would say finally leaves us, because this is the story of this Congress. Every major decision that they came up with, and it began with a threat of a government shut down just two months into this Congress. And then of course we had the debt ceiling showdown, then it culminated with this fiscal cliff and all we’ve done is created what’s coming in March, and Matt, what’s coming in March? Take all the fights we had separately and put them in one fight. And put them all expiring at the same time – debt ceiling, funding the entire federal government (that expires), and then this. …

“The relationship between House Speaker John Boehner and the White House is terrible. Let’s not pretend they can get anything done, and yet you still have to get something through the House. Perhaps this renewed relationship between the White House, Joe Biden, in particular, and Mitch McConnell is a way to get some things done, but it is going to dominate this thing, and one thing to look back here and to figure this out, Republicans have to figure out what they want. If you look back on it, Matt, this was a debacle for the Republican Party. I mean, yesterday we almost had the Republican leadership in the House almost completely undermine the Republican leadership in the Senate. It looked like they threatened to scuttle the whole thing, and they ended up helping Barack Obama raise taxes more than any Republican Party in a generation has helped anybody raise taxes, and they got nothing for it. … The Republican Party has to figure out what it wants to be, first, before they sit down at the negotiating table. And then they’ve got to figure out who’s going to do the negotiating for them. Is it Mitch McConnell? Is it John Boehner? Who runs the Republican Party? I think that’s unclear out of all of this. … Until the Republican Party figures is sort of unified in what it wants to do, it’s not going to be an effective negotiating force against the president.”

A tax hike or a tax cut? Which is it? Grover Norquist tweeted last night: “The Bush tax cuts lapsed at midnight last night. Every R voting for Senate bill is cutting taxes and keeping his/her pledge.”

Thought exercise though: How would it be a tax increase on Dec. 31 but a tax cut on Jan. 1, even if it was the same piece of legislation? That’s more of a question perhaps for Heritage, et al.

Simpson-Bowles see “missed opportunity”… Simpson and Bowles write in a statement from “Fix the Debt” that last night was a “missed opportunity.” Full statement:

“The deal approved today is truly a missed opportunity to do something big to reduce our long term fiscal problems, but it is a small step forward in our efforts to reduce the federal deficit.  It follows on the $1 trillion reduction in spending that was done in last year’s Budget Control Act. While both steps advance the efforts to put our fiscal house in order, neither one nor the combination of the two come close to solving our Nation's debt and deficit problems. Our leaders must now have the courage to reform our tax code and entitlement programs such that we stabilize our debt and put it on a downward path as a percent of the economy. Washington missed this magic moment to do something big to reduce the deficit, reform our tax code, and fix our entitlement programs. We have all known for over a year that this fiscal cliff was coming.  In fact Washington politicians set it up to force themselves to seriously deal with our Nation’s long term fiscal problems. Yet even after taking the Country to the brink of economic disaster, Washington still could not forge a common sense bipartisan consensus on a plan that stabilizes the debt.

“It is now more critical than ever that policymakers return to negotiations that will build on the terms of this agreement and the spending cuts in the Budget Control Act. These future negotiations will need to make the far more difficult reforms that bring spending further under control, make our entitlement programs sustainable and solvent, and reform our tax code to both promote growth and produce revenue.  We take some encouragement from the statements by the President and leaders in Congress that they recognize more work needs to be done.  In order to reach an agreement, it will be absolutely necessary for both sides to move beyond their comfort zone and reach a principled agreement on a comprehensive plan which puts the debt on a clear downward path relative to the economy.”

Gentlemen, language, please… Politico’s provocative lede: “House Speaker John Boehner couldn’t hold back when he spotted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the White House lobby last Friday. It was only a few days before the nation would go over the fiscal cliff, no bipartisan agreement was in sight, and Reid had just publicly accused Boehner of running a ‘dictatorship’ in the House and caring more about holding onto his gavel than striking a deal. ‘Go f— yourself,’ Boehner sniped as he pointed his finger at Reid, according to multiple sources present. Reid, a bit startled, replied: ‘What are you talking about?’ Boehner repeated: ‘Go f— yourself.’

“The harsh exchange just a few steps from the Oval Office — which Boehner later bragged about to fellow Republicans — was only one episode in nearly two months of high-stakes negotiations laced with distrust, miscommunication, false starts and yelling matches as Washington struggled to ward off $500 billion in tax hikes and spending cuts.”

CHASER: "I can't tell him to do that. That. He can't do that to himself. You're crazy. You're absolutely crazy. You're getting as bad as Biden." -- Clint Eastwood, Aug. 30, 2012, during RNC Convention speech.

Step back… For all the drama and ugliness of sausage making, step back and realize there were two votes on major legislation yesterday 20 hours apart.

Fly-by signing… The bill will be flown out to Hawaii for President Obama to sign.

Sandy funding… Notice, by the way, that New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut lawmakers were irate last night that, despite what they say were promises made by GOP leadership, Sandy funding wasn’t considered after the fiscal-cliff vote. Rep. Peter King, a Republican, is making the cable rounds today. NBC’s Frank Thorp has the details.

And what about guns? National Journal… National Journal notes that pro-gun Democrats could pave the way for new gun measures. From the story: Pennsylvania Sen. Bob "Casey’s introspection isn’t a unique tale among normally pro-gun Democrats. Across Capitol Hill, lawmakers ranging from Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia to Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky are acknowledging that last week’s tragedy has, at least for now, left them open to reconsidering measures they once staunchly opposed.”

Message will matter, says Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), an avid hunter and Vietnam vet: “Well, we can start by not calling it ‘gun control.’”

But sticking point: “Not all Democrats are conceding that gun-control measures need to be taken. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., a longtime advocate of gun owners, isn’t making a decision right away on where he stands, despite being hounded with questions about it. He said he needs to hear from his constituents before he can decide on whether to vote for an assault-weapons ban or other gun laws that could be considered in the Senate.”