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What Tonight's House Vote Means

Tonight's House vote on John Boehner's debt ceiling plan is unusual. It's not a vote on a plan that has a chance of passing. Democrats would be out of their minds to agree to it -- Boehner's offer is like a kidnapper who offers to give you back your child in return for $100,000 and your other child.

What's more, the vote coalition Boehner's trying to assemble has no relationship to the vote coalition that will ultimately pass the debt ceiling increase. Boehner is trying to put together an all-Republican coalition. This vote is a test of his ability to get extremely conservative Republicans who have taken radical positions to vote f0r a less-radical alternative. The votes he's corralling will not be needed for the passage of the ultimate plan, which will require agreement with resident Obama and the Senate, and thus lots of House Democrats and many fewer Republicans.

So what does this matter at all? It gives Republicans leverage to survive a default crisis. If the House passes a bill, the Republicans will have a talking point, arguing that they passed a bill, and any failure to lift the debt ceiling rests with the Democrats. (It's a ridiculous talking point, but never mind.) That leverage will effect the terms and the timing of the final debt ceiling bill. Boehner will be able to threaten to go past August 2nd and win the political fight, or at least hold Democrats to a standoff. He can either carry out that threat, or use the leverage of that threat to demand more favorable terms on a compromise agreement. More favorable terms are important to Boehner not just as policy goals but also to minimize the prospect of conservatives deposing him as Speaker.

So it is an important vote, but not for obvious reasons. I'll stick my neck out and predict that, despite the current chaos (as of the writing of this post, just before 6:00 PM, the vote has been delayed) Boehner will find the votes. Stay tuned!