There was palpable relief last night surrounding the debt ceiling. The House had withdrawn from the process; Senate leaders had crafted a bipartisan compromise; and the twin crises appeared to be nearing their end. All the House had to do was bring the Senate measure to the floor.
This apparently won't happen. Hopes that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) might muster the courage to lead his members in a responsible direction were dashed this morning, as House Republicans decided to reject the Senate's bipartisan compromise and move forward with their own plan.
House Republicans will vote as early as Tuesday on its own legislation to avert a default on the national debt and end a two-week-old closure of the federal government, tailored in a way to win over conservatives who have expressed skepticism toward an emerging Senate deal.
The new House GOP plan would open the government through mid-January and extend the debt through Feb. 7, which would be roughly in line with the Senate package. But House Republicans also intend to repeal the medical device tax in the Affordable Care Act for two years, and force members of Congress and White House staffers to pay more for health care.
Why would this be a high priority? Because House Republicans are more than a little nutty.
As for what happens next, you might want to keep a bottle of antacids handy.
The House will probably hold a vote on this new package today with the hopes that it'll pass and go to the Senate. But let's keep in mind, success is hardly assured -- House Democrats, who played no role in shaping this new plan, won't be inclined to support it, and there will likely be plenty of House Republicans who balk, insisting this new plan isn't right-wing enough.
And if this new package falls short, all bets are off, and no one has any idea what would happen next. One would like to assume Boehner would have no choice but to bring the Senate measure to the floor, but the Speaker's profound weaknesses make predictions tricky.
If the House Republicans approve their new proposal today, the Senate and White House would have a decision to make -- pay a modest ransom and encourage more hostage taking, or tell House Republicans to grow up and stop playing stupid games with the nation's future on the line.
We're in unchartered waters, so what might happen if/when Dems balk is anybody's guess, but the optimism folks felt last night is gone and the prospect of Republicans causing a global catastrophe on purpose remains very real.
Update: There are some unconfirmed rumors that House Republicans will simply leave Washington if they pass this bill. If so, if the Senate rejects the offer, there will be no one left in the House to respond and the debt-ceiling deadline will go unmet.