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Holding a blank ransom note

With time running out, House Republicans realized today they have no plan whatsoever on how to deal with a looming debt-ceiling deadline.
House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., left, looks on as Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, pauses during a news conference on Capitol Hill on Oct. 1, 2013 in Washington.
Despite this recent history, Republican lawmakers once again said they expected some kind of major policy concession or they would once again push the nation towards a default. Say hello to Debacle #3.

House Republican leaders are at a loss on how to move a debt limit increase. A GOP leadership aide told CQ Roll Call that after an informal canvas of the House Republican Conference through member meetings and phone calls over the past week, leaders concluded that the top two sweeteners could not attract enough Republican support to pass a debt ceiling hike.

Going into this week, House Republicans had narrowed their scope: they would refuse to pay the nation's bills unless Democrats gave them either (a) the Keystone XL pipeline and its 50 permanent jobs; or (b) the elimination of risk corridors in the Affordable Care Act, which would add $8 billion to the deficit and risk higher premiums on consumers.
In reality, it was highly unlikely the GOP would get either concession -- Democrats don't see the need to pay a ransom if the hostage takers are bluffing -- but Republicans seemed certain they'd seek one concession or the other.
That is, until today, when House GOP leaders suddenly realized that rank-and-file House Republicans aren't on board with either idea. And since these measures apparently don't have 218 GOP votes, Republicans would need Democratic support to pull off their own hostage crisis, which isn't going to happen.
So where does this leave the House of Representatives three weeks before Congress needs to act on the debt limit? Lost and directionless.
A leadership aide told Roll Call, "We are mulling other options and trying to figure out the best way forward on this."
Or put another way, "We had a plan, but now have absolutely no idea what to do next."
It's not too tough to predict how this will play out.

That left Republican leaders with no clear alternative to addressing the debt limit, which the Treasury Department has said needs to be raised by the end of February. Instead, it now appears that a combination of Republicans and Democrats will be needed to get a debt-limit boost through the House.

And that means a clean debt-ceiling increase, which was the inevitable outcome in the first place.
The lingering question isn't why GOP leaders are struggling in this fight; it's why GOP leaders agreed to launch this fight knowing in advance they'd lose.