The irony of last night's drama on Capitol Hill was that the proposal at stake had far more symbolic value than substantive. House Speaker John Boehner, after having abandoned his own fiscal talks, pushed his "Plan B" knowing full well it would not, and could not, become law. Rather, Boehner hoped to use the measure to send a message.
Oh, he sent a message, all right. It's just not the one the Speaker intended.
At least in theory, there was a coherent strategy underlying Boehner's efforts. He would pass his pointless charade, demand Democrats do as he instructed, and cover his backside when the larger process fell apart. All the Speaker needed was his own allies to follow his lead, and give him some additional leverage.
To that end, Boehner tried everything. He tried pleading with his Republican allies, threatening them, and offering them all kinds of goodies. The Speaker made appeals based on emotion, economics, loyalty, and pragmatism, at times, simultaneously.
But in the end, despite all the bravado and faux confidence, Boehner just couldn't deliver. The party he ostensibly leads heard his impassioned pleas, and decided not to follow him.
Debacles of this magnitude are rare.
We'll explore Boehner's future as Speaker a little later this morning, but before we do, let's take stock of where things stand.
We know, for example, that Democratic unity is on the rise, despite concerns over President Obama's latest offer, and that the "Plan B" fiasco has strengthened the Democratic position considerably.
Similarly, we know congressional Republicans are in complete disarray, lacking direction, vision, cohesion, and leadership. Boehner invested his stature and credibility in a pointless initiative, and after twisting in the wind for days, was left looking like a fool.
And we know that there are very limited options remaining to avoid the looming deadlines, which if unmet, may well push the nation back into a recession.
As a simple matter of arithmetic, if House Republicans aren't prepared to follow their own leadership and support a list of right-wing goodies, Boehner and the rest of the GOP leadership must realize that the road to 218 votes runs through the Democratic caucus -- if the Speaker can't pass a bill with his own side's support, he's going to need Nancy Pelosi's help.
Since Boehner has already deliberately blown up his talks with the White House, it will be very tough for the Speaker to give Obama a sheepish call, saying, "Maybe we can give this another shot?" The more likely scenario is that the president will have to quickly begin a very different set of discussions: finding a bill that can generate bipartisan support in the Senate, satisfies Pelosi and House Dems, and can generate the support of a couple dozen House Republicans.
All of this will have to happen, of course, over the course of about 10 days -- two of which are Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Last night, House GOP leaders also announced they're leaving town, possibly to return next week. After last night, there was no real point in them sticking around, anyway.