Talking as time runs out

US House Speaker John Boehner speaks to the media on 20 Dec 2012 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The Republican leader's stunt has fallen flat, and may even cost John Boehner his job, some speculate

Republican leader John Boehner has not just ended up with egg on his face. There is probably a side of hash browns, and the odd waffle and drop of maple syrup sticking to him as well.

His Plan B was always something of a sideshow, a stunt. But it has fallen flat.

It was a sideshow because the Republican plan to extend tax cuts for all but millionaires would have been killed in the Senate or vetoed by the president.

But it would, at least, have allowed him to argue that if the country went over the fiscal cliff it would be the Democrats' fault for rejecting a real proposal that was on the table.

But that did not happen. Conservatives would not back something that raised taxes on millionaires. So the vote was scrapped.

Some conservative commentators are gleefully greeting it as "a great day for America".

It is certainly not a bad one for their arch-enemy Barack Obama either.

You can almost hear the delight beneath the sober White House statement.

"The president will work with Congress to get this done and we are hopeful that we will be able to find a bipartisan solution quickly that protects the middle class and our economy," it read.

Mr Boehner has no alternative but to return to negotiations with Obama, his moral authority shredded but his bargaining hand curiously strengthened.

The failure to gather enough votes for his own proposals underscores, with a big marker pen, how difficult it will be selling any compromise to his own side.

If this is by design he is not only strategically acute but lacks any ego and care for his standing in the Republican Party. Some think he could now lose his job.

I can understand if many feel sombre about this news, and the markets have reacted badly, but only when posturing stops can negotiating actually begin.

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