For the first six months of 2011, John Boehner was remarkably sure-footed in the high-wire act that is serving as the speaker of the (whole) House.

But he stumbled — badly — this past week when he couldn’t find the votes to pass his own debt-ceiling compromise bill Thursday night as the whole world watched.

Boehner had maintained for days that while he didn’t have the 217 “ayes” he needed to pass the bill yet, he would get them. But, robbed of the usual persuasion tactics on a tough vote — a bridge here, a highway there — thanks to the House’s self-imposed earmark ban, there was little he and his leadership team could do as it became clear that the hard “nos” weren’t softening.

By necessity, Boehner postponed the vote until Friday and in so doing provided fodder for the “tea party runs the Republican Party” story line that he had desperately hoped to avoid. (One underreported piece of Boehner’s failure: his inability to attract even a handful of conservative Democratic votes for the bill.)

Boehner knew when he introduced his compromise deal this past week that he was operating without a net. But his struggles to corral the votes suggest that the speaker is less a leader in the House than a follower. Even though the bill passed Friday evening — with much conservative sweetening — the week only deepened questions about Boehner’s influence within his own conference.

John Boehner, for losing your balance when steadiness mattered most, you had the worst week in Washington. Congrats, or something.

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By Chris Cillizza