Fearing primaries, Republican members opted to shun Boehner’s 'Plan B'

Many House Republicans refused to vote for Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) Plan B bill because they were “gun shy” about drawing primary challengers in the 2014, according to several lawmakers.

A number of members involved in the intense whipping operation that took place over the past two days told The Hill that entrenched no votes were more concerned with perception than principle.

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“I think that there were members that are so gun shy about primaries that they weren't willing to take a risk ... some members told me that it was just too hard to explain how it wasn't a tax increase,” Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) said shortly following Thursday night’s abrupt conference meeting where Boehner told his colleagues they wouldn’t vote on the bill.

Fewer than 24 hours later, Speaker Boehner told reporters that his colleagues were worried about the perception of raising taxes.

“There was a perception created that that vote last night was going to increase taxes. Now I disagree with … that characterization of the bill, but that impression was out there. Now, we had a number of our members who just really didn't [want] to be perceived as having raised taxes,” the Speaker said at a Friday morning press conference in the U.S. Capitol.

A bulk of the whipping effort centered on shooting down that argument, made by influential conservative interest groups, that Republicans would be “caving” if they gave in on allowing tax rates to increase for any portion of the population.

Boehner and his deputies helping to whip up support for Plan B — a proposal to keep the current rates in place for more than 98 percent of taxpayers instead of allowing them to expire for everybody on Dec. 31 — tried to convince 25-30 holdouts not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

One lawmaker, who has served on the whip team for several years, told The Hill that he was “whipping people that I’ve never had to whip before.”

The lawmaker, who requested anonymity, was getting frustrated with his colleagues for regurgitating the “the same old bull---- lines ... like, ‘If we don't hold the line, or if we cave’... And I said, ‘What??? Then what?’”

He was able to turn several votes when his colleagues couldn’t answer “what then.”

The Speaker, meanwhile, relayed an analogy posed by a colleague of “a hundred people drowning in a pool and that he was the lifeguard. And because he couldn't save all of them, “does that mean he shouldn't have done anything? And his point to them was, that if I can go in there and save 99 people that are drowning, that's what I should do as a lifeguard.”

Asked why GOP leaders didn’t have the votes, deputy whip Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) told The Hill, “You've got to ask Club for Growth, Heritage Action and all those guys who bullied members of Congress into voting against their own best interests.”

Both right-leaning groups came out against Plan B.

The former tax accountant explained that with no changes in current law, a person making $1 million in 2013 will pay about “$358,000 in taxes. Under the bill that we were trying to pass, they'll pay $320,000…. so, cash being a universal barometer, I don't know if it's a tax increase or a tax decrease under certain Alice-in-Wonderland-esque definitions we've been using the last six or seven days. But the taxpayers have more cash left in their pocket than under the bill we would have passed than they do under current law, and that to me looks like a move forward.”

Yet, it was too much for the whip team to overcome, especially with the deluge of calls and emails to GOP lawmaker offices prompted by groups such as Heritage Action, Club for Growth, FreedomWorks and Tea Party Patriots.

Heritage Action was “surprised and overwhelmed” by the “tremendous” response from the grassroots community to their call for action against “Plan B.”

“I think that's why the bill was pulled. It was a great thing the bill was pulled because at the end of the day, the Speaker did the right thing, he didn't make his members walk the plank on something that even some of the leadership folks acknowledged was just a bargaining chip,” Heritage Action Chief Operating Officer Tim Chapman said in an interview with The Hill.

Other whipping lawmakers said that some no votes remained opposed to Plan B because they believed that the Senate wasn’t going to act, regardless of what the House sent over.

House lawmakers were sent home with the advisement that they would have 48 hours notice before they need to return to D.C., likely next week.

A source close in leadership that it was "likely" that the House would meet at the end of the week.

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