**See updates: No votes tonight. Chaos and dysfunction on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue**
Welcome, friends, to "Plan B" and fiscal cliff vote, redux. Having hammered out a deal to shoot back to the Senate tonight -- with most Republicans reportedly on board -- House GOP leadership has been forced to delay or cancel those votes after support among conservatives collapsed in the early evening hours. The rules committee meeting, which would have formally drawn up the bill and advanced it to the full house, has been postponed indefinitely. The reason is simple. They don't have the votes:
Member calls, "yeah, I don't know. I just don't know. Things are very bad," says the numbers aren't there— Robert Costa (@robertcostaNRO) October 15, 2013
What happened? The counter-offer's broad outline, which I've been following all day, seemed to be on track. Then the medical device tax delay was stripped out, and the "full Vitter Amendment" (no special treatment under Obamacare for Congress, staffers, and White House officials) was inserted in -- both at the behest of the Tea Party faction. You read that right: The House's most ardent conservatives decided they were opposed to stalling or repealing the tax as part of this deal, for tactical reasons. I theoretically sympathize with those reasons. The delay would look like another favor to big business rather than the little guy (which works against the GOP's "fairness" messaging on the mandate tax), it would risk disengaging the medical device industry as a zealous repeal coalition partner, and it would take the issue off the table as a Democrat-dividing maneuver for future negotiations. All that said, since when are conservatives against getting rid of job-killing, innovation-impeding tax increases? A wrong-headed choice, in my estimation. But that's moot now anyway. In spite of those accommodations from leadership and a relatively unified spirit coming out of this morning's meeting, enough members apparently decided that the deal wasn't good enough to merit their support. It seems likely that late-breaking opposition from Heritage Action and FreedomWorks contributed to the whip-count crumble. At roughly the same time that things were falling apart in the House, the president issued an insane veto threat against the bill Republicans are now unlikely to even vote on:
#Breaking: Obama says he would veto debt-ceiling legislation if it includes provision cutting health subsidies for congressional officials.— POLITICO (@politico) October 15, 2013
In other words, Obama was willing to risk partial default in order to protect his special Obamacare carve-out for DC. That's egregious leadership, and totally inexcusable. But Republicans will have a hell of a time hitting him on it because they're in absolute disarray themselves, and won't even pass the bill to see if they might call his bluff. So here we are on Tuesday evening, and the system has broken down. The Thursday debt deadline (disputed by some) is looming, and credit agencies are starting to get jittery. Next steps? Nobody knows for sure, but here's my best guess: Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell will resume their negotiations (with McConnell now significantly weakened by GOP infighting and dysfunction) to forge a deal, which will pass the Senate. Likely at some point tomorrow. Unless Boehner can get his troops in one room, read them the riot act, and get a slightly more favorable deal passed out of the House very soon, he'll be faced with a choice: (1) Violate the "Hastert Rule" and rely on Democrats to provide most of the votes to pass the Senate plan (possibly risking his Speakership -- though who would want his thankless job?), or (2) roll the dice with technical default. We literally don't know how disruptive that will be because it's never happened before. Economists from across the spectrum say it won't be pretty, and most people are inclined to believe them. I think he chooses door number one, passes the (crappier than ever) Senate deal, and incurs the wrath of a large segment of the conservative base. If by some chance we tip over the October 17 cliff, the markets will react, and we might end up seeing a panicked TARP II-style vote. The GOP's most graceful -- though admittedly unsatisfying and frustrating -- exit ramp will soon be closed to traffic. No matter how you slice it, things will get ugly.
UPDATE - An obvious third possibility that I should have included above: The House passes a short-term, totally clean debt ceiling hike, and the shutdown goes on. Would the Senate or the president actually block such an action?
UPDATE II - Intriguing, given the source:
People are joking about this, but honestly GOP should consider offering actual concessions for an Obamacare delay and seeing what happens— Benjy Sarlin (@BenjySarlin) October 15, 2013
Rep. Sessions confirms: No vote or rules committee hearing tonight.— Sabrina Siddiqui (@SabrinaSiddiqui) October 15, 2013
Obama errors:too passive for too long; didn't work Sen angle soon enough; deferred to Reid;assumed Boehner would blink;got biz in too late— Mark Halperin (@MarkHalperin) October 15, 2013
Reid spox: "@SenatorReid and Senator McConnell have re-engaged in negotiations and are optimistic that an agreement is within reach."— Mike Memoli (@mikememoli) October 15, 2013
Yup. RT @j_strong: "It's all over. We'll take Senate deal." -GOP aide— David Freddoso (@freddoso) October 15, 2013
Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson. He is co-authors with Mary Katharine Ham for their new book End of Discussion: How the Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).
Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography