With four days to go

House Republican Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) intended to pass his far-right budget plan on Tuesday, setting up the final phase of the process to raise the debt ceiling, and end the crisis he and his party created. After a discouraging CBO report, Boehner did not have the votes, so he delayed the vote a day.

Boehner then intended to pass his plan on Wednesday. He still didn’t have the votes.

The Speaker was convinced that Thursday would finally be his day, and expressed nothing but cautious optimism. The vote would be held at 6 p.m. Make that 9 p.m. Or maybe before 12 a.m.

Eventually, it became clear Boehner’s Republican opponents wouldn’t budge and his bill still couldn’t pass.

House Republican leaders delayed until at least Friday a white-knuckle vote on legislation designed to ease the nation’s debt crisis, after hours of scrambling in vain to lock down the last votes needed for passage.

Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters shortly before 10:30 p.m. that there would be no vote Thursday night on the bill, which would increase the federal debt limit in two stages in exchange for major spending cuts.

That last line is of particular interest. Even after the past few days, the Republican leadership believes the smartest thing to do would be to force the nation to go through all of this again in December. On purpose. By design. Seriously.

Now what happens? No one has the foggiest idea. Boehner is scheduled to host a meeting with his caucus at 10 a.m. eastern, but what he’ll say is a mystery. The Speaker could try to twist a few more arms; he could send his bill back for some more changes to make the right a little happier; he could give up on the bill and try to reach a bipartisan deal; he could shout, “So long, suckers!,” toss his gavel to Cantor, and get on the first plane back to Ohio.

Remember, all of this drama surrounds a budget plan that will die a few hours later. Opposition to the Boehner bill in the Senate is so strong, there is no doubt that the upper chamber will defeat it quickly. Harry Reid kept his caucus around last night, just so he could bury Boehner’s plan in the event it passed the House. The Speaker, in other words, is pleading with right-wing members to cast a vote they don’t want to make in order to pass a measure that stands no chance of becoming law.

It’s the American political system at its most insane.

At this moment, we know a few things. One, Boehner’s bill is going to fail, either in the House or the Senate. Two, Boehner is the weakest House Speaker in generations, and his hold on the gavel is tenuous, at best. Three, even if Boehner can squeeze his bill through today, his goal of using the vote to gain leverage and present a united front to Democrats is now laughable.

And four, the deadline for extension is 4 days and 16 hours away.