At lunchtime Tuesday, James Bane and his wife, Jodie, entered the Capitol Visitor Center. It was empty. Hundreds of unused audio-tour headphones hung from racks like a haul of black squids, and three Capitol Police officers looked silently at one another across the vast marble lobby. The Banes bore the bewildered expressions of accidental trespassers who had taken a wrong turn into a restricted area, and they shuffled, almost apologetically, around the velvet ropes. There was no one else in line. They walked through the Senate Gallery check-in, where listless staff members watched a CNN screen that read “Punting on Fiscal Trouble.” The channel’s “Debt Ceiling Deadline” countdown clock showed 34 hours, 11 minutes and 38 seconds. ¶ “We’re sightseeing,” said Bane, who was in town from Morgantown, W.Va., for the National Electrical Contractors Association conference. During the morning session, keynote speaker David Gregory, host of “Meet the Press,” assured the gathered electricians that “we are close to a deal.”
But that was all the way back in the morning. By the time the Banes entered the Capitol grounds, the outlines of a shutdown-ending agreement struck by Senate leaders Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had disintegrated in the House, where Republicans instead floated a separate plan that once again called for significant changes to the health-care law — the very demand that has caused the historic gridlock. Democrats said they felt “blindsided,” and the White House discarded the plan as a non-starter. House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who is struggling to lead the GOP’s compromise-averse tea party wing, first wouldn’t say whether the plan would move forward. Later in the afternoon, his office said Republicans would offer a new bill. A little bit later, they said they wouldn’t.