After 'Plan B' Fizzles, What's Boehner's Next Move?

Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon talks with American Enterprise Institute political analyst Norm Ornstein, about GOP Speaker of the House John Boehner. Since his "Plan B" on the fiscal cliff failed this week, where does he go from here with his unruly Republican caucus?

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As we've just heard, this breakdown in negotiations within the Republican Party is troubling for Speaker Boehner. It also stifles negotiations to avert the combination of deep spending cuts and tax increases. That will come without a bipartisan agreement.

We're joined by Norm Ornstein, an experienced observer of Congress and politics. He's resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Thanks for being with us.

NORM ORNSTEIN: Oh, it's always a pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: Has Speaker Boehner lost the leadership with his party in Congress?

ORNSTEIN: This is a terrible embarrassment for Speaker Boehner, and you know, he drew the line on this one. And unlike last year when we had, of course, a comparable embarrassment as the talks fell apart and almost had the debt limit breeched and we got the credit of the United States downgraded, he had the leadership of his own party behind him this time. Last time it was Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor at odds with one other over what to do.

And of course, it becomes a huge problem for him now because when his colleagues didn't stay behind him, it put the blame right back on him and on them. It was very painful to watch.

SIMON: Could he resign? Could he be replaced?

ORNSTEIN: I don't think that's going to happen. Keep in mind that we have a vote on the House floor. The speaker is the speaker of the whole House. And let's face it, one of the big problems here is if you try to be speaker of the Republican Party, that's not all that great to begin with. The whole House votes on January 3rd. I think a lot of these people who spurned the party's leadership are still going to be loyal to Boehner. They don't have an alternative.

But it's also possible that there'll be a challenge from the right. If it picks off 20 or 25 votes, then you may see nobody getting the majority of 218 required to elect a speaker and it could be another setback. I doubt that.

To be frank for us close Congress watchers, it was never going to be the case that you'd get a deal to avert the fiscal cliff, to deal with the long term fiscal problems of the country, that the president, the speaker, the Senate leaders would agree to, that would happen with Republican votes alone.

Indeed, it was much more likely given the toxicity of the tax issue on the Republican side, that Speaker would reach a point where he would have to decide whether he would bring forward a deal that would require more Democrats that Republicans.

SIMON: Do you see that happening, a Republican speaker saying, OK, I'll keep the - I'll make up a number - 100 members of my own party that I can, and then make a majority with the Democrats.

ORNSTEIN: You're about right with the 100 number. And I think it's so difficult for him to do that. He couldn't do it a little more than a year ago. And it resulted in the first downgrade in credit in history. This is a real critical moment for him, and you know, we have couple of questions, very big questions unanswered. One is whether they're going to resume any kind of negotiation to try and do something before January 1 to avert the worst problems.

The second is whether it will require a violent reaction in the markets. Maybe another credit agency downgrades the U.S. It may take that, but we're now at a point where he's going to have a very, very unmerry Christmas ahead.

SIMON: Norm Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Thanks so much.

ORNSTEIN: It's always a pleasure to be with you, Scott.

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