House Speaker John Boehner failed to amass the votes he needed in time to pass his "Plan B" proposal to avert the fiscal cliff Thursday night and instead had to cancel the vote altogether.
As negotiations with the White House came to a halt, Boehner took matters into his own hands this week, but the speaker struggled to get the Republicans united enough to vote for a bill that would have permanently extended Bush-era tax cuts for individuals making less than $1 million a year while allowing tax rates to rise on millionaires.
"We didn't have the votes to pass it," says Ohio Republican Rep. Steve LaTourette. "I don't know if there is a next step. We are not coming back until after Christmas and maybe never."
Boehner led his caucus in the serenity prayer when he made the announcement that he would not bring his plan to the floor for a full vote. And some conservative members hailed it as a victory.
"Republicans should not be forced to vote for a 'show' bill that asks us to compromise on our principles," Republican Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas said.
The failure to pass the bill signals major rifts within the Republican caucus and Boehner's inability to broker a deal that satisfies his most conservative members.
"It weakens the entire Republican party, the Republican majority. It is the weakening, dumbing down of the Republican party," LaTourette says. "We are going to be seen more and more as a bunch of extremists who cannot even get the majority of our own people to support policies we are putting forward."
The vote, however, would have been a symbolic exercise. Experts say Boehner was using the vote to improve his party's public image during the budget showdown. Various polls have shown the public will blame Republicans if there is no deal to avert the fiscal cliff, the expiration of tax cuts and implementation of strict cuts in federal spending that would go into effect after January 1.
"In all of the years I have been looking at negotiations on Capitol Hill, I have never seen one this puzzling," says Norman Ornstein, a congressional expert at the American Enterprise Institute. "I find it kind of bizarre. To get people to walk the plank on raising taxes when it is not going anywhere, is weird."
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said he would never have brought the bill to the floor for a vote in the Senate anyway and President Barack Obama had already announced he'd veto the legislation.
"It is time for the Republicans to get serious, Speaker Boehner's plans are non-starters in the Senate," Reid said during a press conference Thursday.
The vote, however, illustrates just how complicated brokering a final deal will be for Boehner.
The speaker is balancing the reality that the White House won't back any plan that does not include an increase in tax rates for the rich while the most conservative members of his party are opposed to any tax increases, fearing the additional revenue will be misspent.
Strategists say while Boehner's "Plan B" failed even to make it to the floor, the speaker may have strengthened his party's hand in the negotiations.
"What he's doing is sending a signal to the White House that he has been negotiating in good faith – in essence saying, 'Mr. President, look at how far to the right the Republican Conference is. I had to drag them kicking and screaming to this point and I barely did that. Anything close to your position won't get a majority of Republican votes," says Michael DiNiscia, the associate director of the John Brademas Center for the Center for Congress."
Republicans coming out of the caucus meeting said the onus is now on the Senate and the White House to come up with a plan to avoid the fiscal cliff.
"He has been the guy trying to lead," says Illinois Republican Rep. Aaron Schock "Now it is time for Harry Reid to lead. Let's see what he can put together."