A House aide just e-mailed me: “Buckets of crazy.” That’s as good an explanation as any as to why Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) won’t be able to hold a vote tonight on his debt-ceiling bill. The burn-the-building-down set is weakening, but the speaker is still short on votes.

A more optimistic take came from a senior House leadership advisor, who told me that some key members had asked to sleep on it. There is sometimes a point in a negotiation (which is what this is) when it is counterproductive to push on. As the advisor explained: “The speaker was not going to force a midnight vote. We’re not going to do that on something this big.”

Outside of Congress, some of the most aggressive conservatives were urging Congress to make a deal. Even extreme rightwing bloggers will have a hard time casting conservative lightning rod Ann Coulter as a “squish.”(She told Fox News host Sean Hannity that it was time to get this done.)

There are a couple of benefits to drawing this out (although I have no indication whatsover from conversations with half a dozen House Republican offices this evening that the delay is attributable to anything other than difficulty in rounding up the votes). First, Boehner will certainly have a strong argument that nothing OTHER than this bill can get through the House before August 2. And second, as time slips away, there is less and less time for the Senate to come up with an alternative that can pass both houses by August 2.

The smart money is still on the eventual passage of the Boehner bill. But it’s not going to happen without extracting every last drop of patience from the American people, not to mention the media covering one of the most agonizing votes in recent memory.

UPDATE, 11:47 p.m.:

A House aide who was present for much of the wrangling tonight said “we were a number of votes short.” Five? Twenty? “Somewhere in there,” he answered.

He said the opponents were “a mix of freshmen and others.” In particular, South Carolina representatives were “a problem.” He spoke derisively of Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who has been working with the House delegation: “These guys now have a new leader --  this guy Jim.”

The aide said that earlier in the evening the leadership was confident: “We had good momentum, and then it petered out.” There was extensive conversation in the majority whip’s office about a possible revision to Boehner’s bill, perhaps involving the balanced budget amendment. But hadn’t they already voted for this? “Yeah, I don’t think this is very well thought out,” he conceded. Maybe, he said, there will be a “soft link,” or a sense of the House on another round of votes on the balanced budget amendment. Maybe the speaker could offer to tie a vote on the amendment to the second round of spending cuts, to be undertaken by the commission specified in the Boehner bill.

As for the Senate, the aide reminded me that the bill now under consideration is essentially the same bill that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had, along with the speaker, taken to the White House last weekend. In other words, if the House can manage to get the bill out, Reid may in fact drop his own bill, bring up the Boehner bill, and be done with this.

The House, however, first has to do its job. The speaker is scheduled to meet with the conference at 10 a.m. Friday morning. Tonight the leadership is discussing what options to present to the members, and what might finally dislodge some critical votes.

More on the debt standoff in PostOpinions:

Krauthammer: Why the Boehner plan must pass

Milbank: Boehner’s speakership crumbles

Robinson: Why the right is still winning

Samuelson: Retiree programs sabotage U.S’s future

Gerson: Debt strangles progressive policy