Efforts by the House of Representatives to end the US debt ceiling showdown collapsed in startling fashion Tuesday, with the Republican leadership failing to muster enough support for its own plans to avert default.
House speaker John Boehner's team unveiled two paths out of the crisis, including a stripped-down Republican bill extending the US debt ceiling until February 7 and funding government for the next two months.
The first effort never got off the ground and a rules committee postponed a key hearing that would allow the second measure to reach the floor, essentially killing it.
"There will be no action, no votes and the Rules Committee will not be in tonight," the committee's Republican chairman Pete Sessions told reporters as the party failed to close ranks behind the proposal.
The plan came 15 days into a government shutdown, and little more than 24 hours before the United States hits a deadline when it will start running out of funds to pay its bills.
It leaves very little wiggle room for the House and Senate to fashion an agreement before the Thursday deadline that will not get hung up in procedural steps, which could happen in the Senate if any member objects to a fast-track process for a deal.
Aides said the House failure throws the responsibility of crafting a deal to Senate majority leader Harry Reid and top Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, who had put earlier negotiations on hold after Boehner surprised many by trying to cobble together a House plan.
"Given tonight's events, the leaders have decided to work toward a solution that would reopen the government and prevent default," said McConnell's communications director Michael Brumas.
The rapid collapse of the House bill -- precipitated, some say, by a memo from conservative think tank Heritage Action which threatened to score lawmakers poorly if they voted for the measure -- shocked some Republicans.
"Unbelievable day. No House bill on CR (the continuing resolution to fund government) or debt," Republican Lee Terry said on Twitter, adding it was now "up to McConnell" to stand tough on maintaining federal spending cuts.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic minority leader who lost the speaker's gavel to Boehner in early 2011 after Republicans won back control of the House, took a swipe at her rival over the debacle.
"If @SpeakerBoehner is looking for something to vote on tonight, how about the Senate bill to open govt?" she tweeted.
Boehner's latest measure stripped out provisions that delayed taxes which help fund President Barack Obama's health care law.
It also funded government until only December 15, so that Republican lawmakers could take another shot at removing an "Obamacare" provision known as the contraception mandate before it goes into force January 1.
The bill would have also eliminated health insurance subsidies for members of Congress, aides and White House and cabinet officials and stripped the Treasury's power to take special measures to manage US debt obligations.
"It's a simple message, it's one that our conference can rally behind," Republican congressman Steve Womack said told reporters, though his words fell on deaf ears.
"Even if this bill passed tonight, what would it have done?" Republican congressman Peter King, an outspoken critic of Tea Party-backed efforts to dismantle Obamacare through a shutdown and debt ceiling fight, told the Huffington Post.
"After shutting down the government for two and a half weeks, laying off 800,000 people, all the damage we caused, all we would end up doing was taking away health insurance from congressional employees. That's it?
"That's what you go to war for? That's what we shut down the United States government for?" he added.