Boehner struggled to accommodate his most vocal and hard-line members, adjusting his plan to address their concerns only hours after laying it out in a morning meeting with his caucus.
But even after the rewrite, even after cajoling lawmakers in small groups — attempting to convince them that passing a Republican plan in the House would give the party more power to win concessions from Democrats than if they allowed the Senate to take the lead — there were still not enough votes to pass it.
Before the defeat, some of Boehner’s friends, particularly former House members now in the Senate, fretted about the impact of another failure.
“Of all the damage to be done politically here, one of the greatest concerns I have is that, somehow, John Boehner gets compromised,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who entered the House in 1995 and was involved in several coup attempts at the time against Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). “You know, I was involved in taking one speaker down; I’d like to be involved in keeping this speaker, because, quite frankly, I think he deserves it.”
Graham and others said Boehner’s latest strategy was as much about salvaging his tenure as speaker as it was about advancing conservative policy goals. Before the House GOP again surrendered, those Senate Republicans had said they believed that another failure would further imperil an already historically weak House speaker.
These Boehner friends do not expect him to be removed as speaker, but they worry whether any Republican policy goals will be able to make it through the House going forward.
Graham joined Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who was also elected to the House in 1994, in a meeting Friday in which they pleaded with Boehner to craft something that could win an overwhelming majority of his caucus and get signed into law.
By Monday night, the speaker had told Republicans he would make another try. By early afternoon Tuesday, Republicans were optimistic that Boehner could finally push something through the House that the Senate would be forced to consider.
But the speaker was unable to make it happen.
The death knell for the legislation came as the conservative group Heritage Action announced that it opposed the plan and urged lawmakers to vote against it. The group has been leading the effort to pressure Republicans to tie government funding to defunding the federal health-care law.
The day repeated a cycle that has defined the GOP since it retook the House in 2010 and played out over and over in the most recent fiscal fight.
In August, Boehner counseled his members in a conference call against risking a government shutdown by linking agency funding to the health-care law.