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First Thoughts: A game of leverage

After Boehner’s failure last night, do Democrats now have more leverage in the debt fight?... What we learned last night: 1) The final House bill will need both GOP and Dem votes; 2) The old rules no longer apply in twisting arms for votes; and 3) Can Republicans govern?... Another question Democrats are asking: Do House Republicans really want to do this again in six month?... And Pawlenty and Huntsman escalate their rhetoric.

*** A game of leverage: Yesterday, we said that who’s up one day in this debt debate can quickly go down the next. And that’s precisely what happened on Thursday night, when House Speaker John Boehner -- who had appeared likely to get his debt legislation through the House -- had to postpone the vote. The reason: GOP leaders simply didn’t have the votes to pass it. Why does all of this matter, even though Boehner's bill is supposedly D.O.A. in the Senate? It’s about leverage. Had Republican passed their bill last night, it would have put pressure on the White House and Democrats, even though Senate Dems had vowed to oppose the Boehner bill. But with the GOP’s failure last night, Democrats suddenly have much more leverage than they did yesterday. Expect Mitch McConnell and a band of frustrated Senate Republicans (whom McConnell is simply trying to keep calm) to give Boehner a couple of hours this morning to try to pass his legislation again. But if that doesn’t happen, Senate Republicans might end up cutting a deal with Harry Reid and the Democrats -- moving things faster than any of us thought possible.

*** Final House bill will need GOP and Dem votes: Here’s another reason why Democrats suddenly have more leverage in this debt debate: We’ve heard that House leaders weren’t trying to flip just the last 10 or 15 votes yesterday. GOP leaders had already moved DOZENS of House Republican votes from "maybe" “no” to “yes.” What does that mean: There just aren’t enough House GOP votes -- by themselves -- to raise the debt ceiling. The eventual compromise bill is going to take 105 to 110 House Republican votes, as well as 105 to 110 House Democratic votes. So message to Kevin McCarthy and Steny Hoyer: Time to roll up your sleeves; Monday could be the REALLY long day.  

*** Do House Republicans really want to do this again in six months? Rhetorically, Democrats now have additional leverage in their fight to have a single debt-ceiling hike through 2012 (as opposed to the GOP desire to have another hike early next year). As White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer tweeted last night, “Someone remind me why @speakerboehner is dead set on doing this again in December?” And as a top Senate Democratic aide emailed First Read, "If this isn't reason enough to avoid doing all this over again in six months, what is?" Some Republicans might believe doing this again will make the president look weak at a time when Americans are actually beginning to tune into the election. Is that possible? Maybe, but it's just as possible that it turns into a total youknowwhat-show, and has more of what last night highlighted -- Republicans attacking Republicans and a party in disarray. So it's hard enough to imagine gambling with the U.S. economy at this point, but it also means gambling with your own political future and relevancy.

*** The old rules no longer apply: There are two more lessons we learned last night. First, the old rules to twist recalcitrant arms no longer apply. Tea Party and conservative House members don’t really care about important committee assignments. They don’t place a value on fundraising help. And earmarks and extra pork for their districts? Forget about it. As the Washington Post recounts, GOP Rep. Jeff Flake -- who opposes Boehner’s bill -- “praised the lack of horse-trading of the type that marred passage of Obama’s health-care legislation. ‘It is the most refreshing thing in the world to see what’s going on in there,’ Flake said. ‘This kind of negotiation a couple years ago would have cost about $20 billion.’” It is refreshing. But it’s also a curse if you’re trying to get things done.

*** Can Republicans govern? A second lesson we learned: It’s a legitimate question to ask if the Tea Party-fueled Republican Party can govern. Last night wasn’t just about Boehner failing to get the votes. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy were united with their speaker in trying to get votes for the bill. Some folks are trying to make this a referendum on Boehner's speakership, but could anyone else have managed this group? Bottom line: The entire GOP leadership doesn’t know how to manage the Tea Party and their conservative members. Boehner and Republicans have spent the last several weeks accusing President Obama of not leading. But as one GOP member told NBC’s Luke Russert: "Our message has been that we lead and Obama doesn't. That didn't happen [last night]." Obama himself referred to Boehner’s challenge earlier this month: “The politics that swept him into the speakership were good for a midterm election; they’re tough for governing.”

*** Today’s House tick-tock: Late last night, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's office released a list of the bills that will be considered today, and Boehner's bill is listed as one of those bills, NBC’s Frank Thorp reports. While it does not say when they will vote (because they don't know exactly what they will be doing/how much time they will need to whip the new bill), they say that it will not be earlier than 11:00 am. They are only expecting one series of votes. Thorp adds that a different bill is likely to be proposed, and because of the same-day rule that was introduced at last night’s 11th-hour emergency Rules Committee meeting, they will be able to introduce the new version of the bill and vote on it on the same day. Usually, the House will wait 72 hours after a bill has been introduced to vote on it.

NBC's Kelly O'Donnell and Chuck Todd report on the failure of the House to pass a debt-limit extension.

*** Pawlenty and Huntsman escalate their rhetoric: As far as the action on the 2012 campaign trail, things are continuing to heat up. In Iowa yesterday, Tim Pawlenty went after his GOP rivals (and it’s pretty clear he was referring to Michele Bachmann here. "It's not much of a consolation prize for Iowa to have somebody who's right for that moment, who's exciting for the day but really can't be the nominee of the party, really can't beat Barack Obama," he said, per NBC’s Andrew Rafferty. While stumping again today in Iowa, Pawlenty echoed that line: “The main way we're going to goof this up as a party is to nominate the wrong candidate.” And on FOX last night, Jon Huntsman said this about the current debt debate, per NBC’s Matt Loffman: “My opponents in this race haven't even come up with what they support."

*** On the 2012 trail: As mentioned above, Pawlenty is in Iowa… Rick Perry and Rick Santorum address the Western Conservative Summit in Denver, CO… And Jon Huntsman, in DC, keynotes the College Republican National Committee

*** Friday’s “Daily Rundown” line-up: Sens. Kent Conrad (D-ND) & Bob Corker (R-TN) on the state of play for a debt deal… Bestselling author Daniel Silva (who made #1 on WSJ’s list today!)… NBC’s Mike Viqueira, National Journal’s Reid Wilson and the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin on 2012, debt, and more.

Countdown to Wisconsin recall general for GOP senators: 11 days
Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 15 days
Countdown to Wisconsin recall general for Dem senators: 28 days
Countdown to NV-2 and NY-9 special elections: 46 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 102 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 192 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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