[R]eporters stalked outside the offices of Boehner and Cantor as members walked in and out for meetings. This wasn't like health care, or even the continuing resolution. We were watching diehard conservatives, who had never wanted to raise the debt limit, and who had never done so in their careers, being begged for votes. As the night dragged on, the visitors did not look like the sort who could cave on big, existential votes. Louie Gohmert, one of the diehards who believes that Tim Geithner is lying about the threat of default, was dragged in. Tim Scott, the co-president of the freshman class, was dragged in; he walked out nonplussed, walked past reporters, and took out his iPod earbuds to confirm he was a "no."
If Boehner can't get the tea partiers in the House to support his proposal, and if Harry Reid can't find 60 votes in the Senate for his, then pretty shortly they'll figure out that there's only one way to pass something: forge a compromise that can get substantial support from both Democrats and non-tea-party Republicans.
Supposedly, the plan now is to "tweak" Boehner's bill on Friday, then try again for passage. Maybe the second time will be the charm. Maybe not. Either way, House Republicans made it abundantly clear on Thursday night that while John Boehner may be the Speaker, he doesn't speak for them.
Just 3 percent of Republicans running for re-election in districts rated as competitive in the general election are believed to oppose the bill. But 13 percent of Republicans who are running in safe seats or who are retiring to run for higher office are “no” votes. (I count Mrs. Bachmann in this category although her retirement from the House is not certain depending on how her primary campaign goes.) Those seats which are safe in the general election are precisely those that are often not safe in the primaries, however, so the threat of primary challenges is probably what is driving the disparity.
Jonathan Bernstein warns against "overreaching interpretations of the delayed vote":
I'd just caution everyone that what looks really important at the moment often fades a whole lot quicker than seems possible. Perhaps years from now yesterday will be the point at which something really significant happened in American politics and the Republican Party…but it's equally likely that three months from now yesterday will be entirely forgotten.
Reid has the support of at least 50 senators already. But, to overcome the inevitable Republican filibuster and, eventually, to merge his bill with whatever comes out of the Republican House, he’s going to have to compromise a little more–which means we’re about to hear a lot about “triggers.”
Boehner was aways going to need to assemble a coalition of more moderate Republicans and Democrats to get a deal. Last night's vote was a referendum on Boehner, but it had little to do with reaching an actual deal. So the optimistic spin is that the GOP's failure will move the Republican leadership to embrace the bipartisan strategy they were always going to have to adopt at the end. The pessimistic spin is that they now know pushing a compromise bill through the House could truly harm their careers and will hide from it. But they can only hide for so long. That's the problem with being in the leadership. Eventually, you have to lead.