Senior Senate Republicans, meanwhile, were at work on a fallback plan that would not significantly restrain the national debt but would at least avert widespread economic damage by canceling tax increases scheduled to take effect next year for the vast majority of Americans. That strategy calls for Republicans to capitulate to Obama's demand to let tax rates rise on wage and salary income for the wealthiest 2 percent of taxpayers.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has floated the strategy among Republicans in both chambers, according to lawmakers and senior GOP aides. It has been rejected by Boehner and other House leaders, aides said.
But top GOP policy aides continued to refine the plan Thursday as a growing number of Senate Republicans clamored for action to prevent the fiscal crisis -- for which, polls show, Republicans would be blamed.
Boehner is still at least nominally fighting over the tax hike for income over $250,000 a year, a battle that's clearly already been lost. It's not crystal clear to me whether this is Boehner's own viewpoint, to the extent something like that could be identified, or simply a measure of his weak position in the face of House GOP fire-eaters. But the difference may not matter. As Boehner digs in, McConnell is now openly working against his position, trying to organize a tactical retreat on the tax question and thus leaving Boehner increasingly exposed.
A side irony is that the House is supposed to be the body more reactive to public opinion. But the current state of gerrymandering may have turned this on its head - something the last three elections have shown in spades. But GOP senators, both for reasons of self-preservation and self-awareness, can see the black hole Boehner and the folks in the House are leading them into.
In my conversations with folks in the White House and on the Hill, I've been skeptical whether the Democrats and the White House really have a plan for what they do when the House GOP pushes the country into default. Now I'm wondering if I've underestimated the strength of their position. This whole drama could snap Boehner like a twig.