Reid move on 'Plan B' shielded centrists from a tough vote

Senate Democratic leaders ruled out a vote on Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerBoehner endorses DeVos for Education secretary Trump, House GOP could clash over 'Buy America' Lobbying World MORE’s (R-Ohio) "Plan B" tax bill as the political blame game shifted into high gear on Thursday.

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidRyan says Trump, GOP 'in complete sync' on ObamaCare Congress has a mandate to repeal ObamaCare Keith Ellison picks ex-DNC Latino as press secretary MORE (D-Nev.) said he wanted to push BoehnerJohn BoehnerBoehner endorses DeVos for Education secretary Trump, House GOP could clash over 'Buy America' Lobbying World MORE back to the negotiating table with President Obama, but his decision effectively shielded vulnerable Democrats up for reelection.

Reid said that “until Republicans take up our bill in the House, the one that’s passed here, there’s nothing to discuss.” He was referring to the legislation that passed the Senate earlier this year that would extend tax cuts for families making $250,000 or less per year.

“We are not taking up any of the things that they’re working on over there now,” he said. “It’s very, very, very unfortunate the Republicans have wasted an entire week on a number of pointless political stunts.”

Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerHHS nominee's stock buys raise ethical questions: report Schumer puts GOP on notice over ObamaCare repeal Sanders, Dems defend ObamaCare at Michigan rally MORE (N.Y.), the Senate Democrats’ chief political strategist, said the political dynamic has changed since 2010.  “You can’t turn the clock back two years; the politics are different. The president wanted 250, campaigned on 250 and won on 250,” Schumer said in favor of using the lower threshold of $250,000 to extend tax rates.

Short of votes, House Republicans pulled Speaker John Boehner’s “Plan B” tax bill from the floor late Thursday. 

Fifty-two Democrats and a liberal Independent voted two years ago for a proposal to extend Bush-era tax rates for family income below $1 million, the central component of Boehner’s plan.

Sen. Bill NelsonBill NelsonTakata executives indicted over defective airbag charges Five takeaways from Chao’s confirmation hearing Chao commits to multiple funding tools for Trump’s infrastructure plan MORE (D), who won reelection in Florida, campaigned on that threshold.

“Sen. Nelson supports permanently extending the Bush-era tax cuts that are due to expire at the end of this year for everybody making less than $1 million a year,” his spokesman said this summer.

In addition, a handful of centrist Democrats facing reelection, including Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max BaucusMax BaucusFive reasons why Tillerson is likely to get through Business groups express support for Branstad nomination The mysterious sealed opioid report fuels speculation MORE (Mont.), Sen. Mark PryorMark PryorCotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Top Democrats are no advocates for DC statehood MORE (Ark.) and Sen. Mary LandrieuMary LandrieuFive unanswered questions after Trump's upset victory Pavlich: O’Keefe a true journalist Trump’s implosion could cost GOP in Louisiana Senate race MORE (La.), want to keep the inheritance tax from rising significantly. Boehner’s plan would have kept it at the current 35 percent rate.

Earlier Thursday, Baucus declined to say whether he would vote for Plan B if it reached the Senate floor: “That’s a hypothetical. Moot.”

Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinWarren blasts Trump for John Lewis criticism Dems prepare to face off with Trump's pick to lead EPA Manchin: Republicans should learn from Dems' ObamaCare mistakes MORE (D-W.Va.), who represents a state Mitt Romney won handily, said he needed to review the bill more closely.

“They’re breaking it down for us now,” he said.

Other Democrats who could face tough reelections in 2014, such as Sen. Mark WarnerMark WarnerSenate Intel panel to probe Trump team's ties to Russia The Hill's 12:30 Report Blackout forces brief delay in Pompeo confirmation hearing MORE (Va.) and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen Jeanne ShaheenMattis's views on women in combat takes center stage Tillerson won't rule out Muslim registry Schumer: If Trump agrees Russia behind hacking, let's boost sanctions MORE (N.H.), said they would have voted no.

A vote against extending tax rates for income below $1 million could have posed problems for the handful of Democratic senators running for reelection in red states.

“That’s surely one reason why Harry Reid will keep the issue off the floor,” said Steven Smith, a political science professor at Washington University in St. Louis who specializes in congressional studies. “The easiest thing for him to do is say this is going nowhere in the Senate so there’s no point to bring it up. He’ll do what he can to spare some of his colleagues a vote that might be used against them in the future.”

Reid and other Democratic leaders argued Thursday it would be senseless to bring "Plan B" to the floor because it had no chance of passing and they needed to spend limited time before year’s end on passing the defense and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act reauthorizations.

Republicans, including Boehner, said Reid could have amended "Plan B" with a new Democratic proposal to address the tax rates set to expire on Dec. 31.

Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellJuan Williams: Race, Obama and Trump Schumer puts GOP on notice over ObamaCare repeal Right renews push for term limits as Trump takes power MORE (Ky.), said Reid was trying to buy time.

“He doesn’t have an agreement yet on his amendment,” said Stewart, who argued Reid could not use the Senate bill that passed in July, which extended tax rates for family income below $250,000, because it allows the estate tax to lapse to 55 percent, which would be unacceptable to many Democrats.

Adam Jentleson, Reid’s spokesman, said Democrats never considered amending Boehner’s fallback measure.

“Boehner’s pitch is based on the idea that them acting forces us to act. They’re doing their utmost to convince their own members that is the case. It’s just not going to see the light of day,” he said of the proposal.

Democrats said "Plan B" was unacceptable for many reasons, claiming it would have raised taxes on working families by not extending the college tuition tax credit, the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit.

“That’s not a plan. We need something that will move this country in the right direction,” said Sen. Jon TesterJon TesterLive coverage: The Senate's 'vote-a-rama' Dems attack Trump SEC pick's ties to Wall Street Bipartisan group of lawmakers blast neo-Nazi rally MORE (D), who won reelection last month by a narrow margin in Republican-leaning Montana.

Democratic leaders said Thursday the fiscal cliff must be addressed by negotiations between Obama and Boehner. No solution would come from “ping-ponging” legislation between the Senate and House.

The general perception that Boehner’s proposal was more of a negotiating tactic than a serious plan to avoid the fiscal cliff had emboldened vulnerable Democrats to support Reid’s plan to bottle it up.

“They have plenty of reasons to oppose the Republican plan,” Smith said of red-state Democrats. “They’re holding out for a larger long-term package, and the Republican approach is so limited that it cannot be taken seriously. Republicans are not touching the debt-limit increase, and that’s a pretty serious deficiency.”

Sen. Mark BegichMark BegichThe future of the Arctic 2016’s battle for the Senate: A shifting map Trump campaign left out of Alaska voter guide MORE (D), who is running for reelection in Alaska, dismissed it as a charade. He said the House Republican bill would not fully stop the expansion of the Alternative Minimum Tax.

Asked if he could vote for it if it came up for a vote, he answered promptly, “It’s not coming to the floor.”

If it did, most Senate Republicans would have rallied behind it. But some Republicans declined to reveal their stances until after the House acted.

“I’m not going to think about it until it gets out of the House,” said Sen. Roy BluntRoy BluntTrump told of unsubstantiated Russian effort to compromise him Overnight Tech: Tech listens for clues at Sessions hearing | EU weighs expanding privacy rule | Senators blast Backpage execs A bitter end to the VA status quo MORE (R-Mo.) before Plan B was pulled. Sens. John McCainJohn McCainMcCain leans toward voting for Tillerson Trump's navy build-up comes with steep price tag 9 GOP senators Trump must watch out for MORE (R-Ariz.), Mike LeeMike LeeRight renews push for term limits as Trump takes power Conservatives press Trump on Supreme Court pick Overnight Finance: Ethics chief blasts Trump business plan | Senate begins late-night marathon vote | Lawmakers look to rein in Trump on trade MORE (R-Utah) and Pat RobertsPat RobertsFive questions for Trump’s tax reform Who are the real champions for children? Senate GOP to Obama: Stop issuing new rules MORE (R-Kan.) also said they would wait for House action before making a decision.

But McConnell on Tuesday said he would likely have voted for Boehner’s plan. “I can’t imagine that I would not be supportive of a proposal that had permanent tax reductions for a substantial portion of the American taxpaying public,” he said.