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Grab Your Hang-Glider: John Boehner Is Pushing Us Off the Fiscal Cliff

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As negotiations have broken down, it seems like there's no chance to avoid the tax hikes and spending cuts the New Year will bring.

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Fasten your seat belts, folks. House Speaker John Boehner hit the accelerator and is driving us over the fiscal cliff.

When negotiations with President Obama stalled, Boehner shifted gears last week. He proposed "Plan B" to stave off the worst of the tax hikes and the budget sequester slated for next year. The plan would increase rates on incomes above $1 million rather than the $400,000 threshold endorsed by Obama.

But several members of Boehner's own caucus balked, based on their opposition in principle to tax hikes and the fact that President Obama offered no additional spending cuts to offset the revenue. In a humbling defeat, Boehner was forced to cancel the vote on a bill he promised would pass and give him leverage in any continued negotiations with the president.

The Speaker now seems to have abdicated his responsibility for reaching a deal with President Obama and Senate Democratic leaders, sending Congress home for one of the least jolly Christmas breaks in the chamber's history.

It's still possible for lawmakers to slam on the brakes before the country reaches the edge of the fiscal cliff, but it's become less likely. The specter of tax hikes broke the GOP caucus, giving Boehner a much weaker hand when he eventually returns to the bargaining table with Obama.

Sticking to his message that Washington has a "spending problem," Boehner seemed to be in denial about the impact of his failed gambit during a Friday press conference with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. When asked if a deal was even possible, the Ohio Congressman appealed to a power higher than the Oval Office. "God only knows," Boehner said.

Obama spoke with Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Friday, asking them to craft an agreement in next few days that prevents a tax hike on middle class Americans, protects unemployment insurance for 2 million Americans, and lays the groundwork on economic growth and deficit reduction.

"Nobody can get 100% of what they want. And this is not simply a contest between parties in terms of who looks good and who doesn't. There are real world consequences to what we do here," Obama said at a press conference late Friday afternoon. "Call me a hopeless optimist, but I actually still think we can get it done."

Aware of the stakes, budget experts have turned pessimistic.
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