President Obama and congressional Democrats were prepared to move forward on an ambitious Grand Bargain, which would have achieved more than $4 trillion in debt reduction over the next decade. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) embraced the White House’s goal and believed he was a strong enough leader to deliver on the agreement.

Yesterday, Boehner realized he’s not nearly as strong a Speaker as he’d hoped.

House Speaker John A. Boehner abandoned efforts Saturday night to cut a far-reaching debt-reduction deal, telling President Obama that a more modest package offers the only politically realistic path to avoiding a default on the mounting national debt.

On the eve of a critical White House summit on the debt issue, Boehner (R-Ohio) told Obama that their plan to “go big,” in the speaker’s words, and forge a compromise that would save more than $4 trillion over the next decade, was crumbling under Obama’s insistence on significant new tax revenue. […]

Obama, at least, was willing to make that leap and had put significant reductions to entitlement programs on the table. But on Saturday, Boehner blinked….

The conventional wisdom suggests Republicans, who falsely believe we’re in the midst of some sort of debt crisis, are desperate to slash the deficit and bring the budget closer to balance. The conventional wisdom is, and has been, entirely wrong — Republicans care about keeping taxes on the wealthy low. Every other priority is a distant second.

Obama was willing to go big, even at the risk of infuriating his own base. In the process, the GOP was presented with a test: when faced with a historic opportunity on an issue they claim to care about, are Republicans willing to accept some sensible, popular concessions in order to cut the debt by more than $4 trillion? Is the GOP ready to rise to the occasion?

Yesterday, Republican leaders replied, “No, we’re not.”

Of course, this appears to take one possible solution to the debt-ceiling standoff off the table, but it doesn’t change the fact that a solution is still a necessity.

As talks at the White House reconvene today, focus will shift towards a $2.4 trillion package, more in line with the plan produced by the Biden-led talks. This should, in theory, be easier to achieve, though you’ll recall that GOP leaders abandoned those negotiation two weeks ago, when Democrats said the agreement couldn’t be 100% to 0% in Republicans’ favor.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.