On New Year’s Day, in a cramped room in the Capitol basement, House Republican leaders faced an angry caucus. Democrats had negotiated them into a corner — virtually every American would be hit with a massive tax increase unless the House agreed to block the hikes for everyone but the wealthy.
A freshman lawmaker seized a microphone and demanded to know how the leaders planned to vote. House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) was a yes, but his top two lieutenants were opposed.
“If you’re for this and they’re against, we’ve got problems,” Rep. Stephen Lee Fincher (R-Tenn.) shouted at Boehner and more than 200 lawmakers present, according to Republicans who attended the closed-door meeting. Sure enough, they had problems. Hours later, Democrats helped Boehner pass the measure over the opposition of more than 60 percent of GOP lawmakers.
That vote, to avert the “fiscal cliff,” marked a breaking point for House Republicans, who had disintegrated into squabbling factions, no longer able to agree on — much less execute — some of the most basic government functions.