Thwarted by conservatives in his own Republican Party, House Speaker John Boehner scrambled Tuesday to secure enough GOP votes to beat a fast-closing Aug. 2 deadline and stave off the potential financial chaos of the nation's first-ever default.
Even with time running out, the speaker promised to quickly rewrite his debt-ceiling legislation after budget officials said it would cut spending less than advertised.
Meanwhile, public head-butting between Democratic President Barack Obama and the Republicans showed no sign of easing. The White House declared Obama would veto the Boehner bill, even if it somehow got through the House and the Democratic-controlled Senate.
For all that, it was the tea party-backed members of Boehner's own party who continued to vex him, and heavily influence the debt and deficit negotiating terms -- not to mention his chances of holding on to the speakership.
Their adamant opposition to any tax increases forced Boehner to back away from a "grand bargain" with Obama that might have made dramatic cuts in government spending. Yet when Boehner turned this week to a more modest cost-cutting plan, with no tax increases, many conservatives balked again. They said the proposal lacked the more potent tools they seek, such as a constitutional mandate for balanced budgets.
Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, chairman of a large group of conservative Republicans, sent a tremor through the Capitol Tuesday when he said he doubted Boehner had enough support to pass his plan Wednesday, when it is scheduled for a vote. The Boehner bill would require congressional action to raise the debt ceiling this summer, and again before the 2012 elections.
Obama strongly opposes that last requirement, arguing that it would reopen the delicate and crucial debt discussions to unending political pressure during next year's campaigns.
The president supports a separate bill, pushed by Majority Leader Harry Reid in the Democratic-controlled Senate, that would raise the debt ceiling enough to tide the government over through next year -- and the elections.
Boehner wasn't helped by an official congressional analysis late Tuesday that said his plan would produce smaller savings than originally promised -- less than $1 trillion in spending cuts over the coming decade rather than the $1.2 trillion he estimated on Monday.
Boehner's office said it would rewrite the legislation to make sure the spending cuts exceed the amount the debt limit would be raised. Adding a political touch, it accused the Democrats of declining to put forward specifics subject to the same sort of review.