The House is now officially ungovernable.
In an embarrassing defeat, Speaker John Boehner scrapped a bill Tuesday night that would raise the debt ceiling, end the shutdown, and secure minor changes to the Affordable Care Act. The proposal was a last-ditch plan by Boehner to exit the current standoff with some shred of dignity before Senate leaders reached a bipartisan deal with even more modest Obamacare tweaks. But House conservatives, backed by the influential Heritage Foundation, rebelled and refused to support the measure, decrying it as too weak on the president's health care law.
Republican Congressman Pete Sessions told reporters that they'd try again tomorrow. But with the October 17 deadline to raise the debt ceiling or risk default and financial collapse rapidly approaching, they're running out of time and patience.
With Boehner neutered by his Tea Party caucus, it's up to the Senate and Wall Street, which is growing increasingly rattled by the House's discord, to force a deal. Republican Senators put their talks with Democrats on hold Tuesday to see if House Republicans might boost their leverage by uniting behind a more conservative plan. After witnessing the latest chaos in the House, however, they're not holding their breath. Within an hour of the news that Boehner had pulled his bill, spokesmen for Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell announced they would resume their talks.
"Given tonight's events, the Leaders have decided to work toward a solution that would reopen the government and prevent default. They are optimistic an agreement can be reached," Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement.
As it stands, a shutdown strategy that was designed to unite Boehner's warring Republican factions and break the back of President Obama's health care law looks likely to end with Obamacare intact and Boehner's caucus more bitterly divided than ever.
Without the backing of a majority of House members, Boehner will likely need help from Nancy Pelosi to pass the final bill that averts the looming crisis. That means, paradoxically, that conservatives have all but guaranteed the final deal will likley to be further to the left than it might have been had House GOP leaders succeeded in passing their plan. It's a dynamic that's played out repeatedly since Boehner took over as speaker, most recently in December 2012 when a conservative revolt against his compromise bill extending most of the Bush tax cuts forced him to pass a more liberal Senate deal with Democratic votes.