After days and weeks of excruciatingly minimal progress, today the debt-ceiling bill and all that it entails was supposed take a huge leap forward. But on this one, nothing is easy. The House Republicans have decided to delay passage of the bill, suggesting the vote count isn’t quite there. However, they still expect a vote tonight.

Earlier in the day a House GOP leadership aide told me that the fix to account for the Congressional Budget Office’s scoring of the Boehner bill went over well with Republican members: “We got points for honesty — fixing the problem, rather than sweeping it under the rug.” As for the freshmen, he said breezily, “And we love the freshmen — the media always gets that wrong. They are not the problem.” Perhaps, or perhaps the House speaker has used them effectively to move the entire debate sharply to the right.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) earlier today had seemed to be moving on to the Senate fight, telling Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that he has “different options. . . . One is to suffer the economic consequences of default, which all of us hope he doesn’t choose. Two is to bring up the bill we sent prior [cut, cap and balance] . . . or to accept the compromise bill that we are sending over today.”

Now, the House will remain in session this weekend, to both secure the vote and, no doubt, to quickly respond both rhetorically and legislatively, if the Boehner bill passes, to whatever comes out of the Senate.

Outside of Congress the conservative community is split but certainly not evenly. Yes, groups such as Club for Growth and Heritage sent out reminders saying they are still opposed to the bill. But the message at this point is pro forma.

Other Republicans eager to distance themselves from the default-deniers are stepping forward. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell sent out a statement:

It it critical that the United States Congress immediately pass the best possible bill that will resolve the ongoing debt limit impasse. It would be catastrophic for the United States, and for Virginia, if we defaulted on our obligations. For far too long, Congress has overspent and now the bills are due. Washington must start doing what governors are doing around the country – making serious cuts to get their fiscal houses in order. Speaker Boehner’s bill cuts spending, doesn’t raise taxes and ensures that we do not default on our debt. I urge the members of Congress, including Virginia’s delegation, to vote in support of this measure.

In other words, tough conservatives are with Boehner, providing more than enough cover for House members to step up to the plate and move the debt bill ahead. While the outcome may not quite be certain, the margin, if it passes, will be significant. An especially strong showing in the House will turn up the heat on the 12 Senate Republicans who have been threatening to oppose anything that doesn’t include an affirmative vote on the balanced budget amendment.

The White House story line that Boehner is a “captive” to the Tea Party is proving to be laughably wrong. The secret to Boehner’s success is that he has never gotten too far from his caucus and has gone to great lengths to demonstrate his frustration (genuine, I have no doubt) with the White House. This is the Democrats’ worst nightmare — a unified, conservative House that distances itself from the most extreme elements in the conservative movement but keeps to its general principles. Now they just have to pass the bill.