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With debt limit, John Boehner could be facing his defining moment (+video)

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(Read caption) US House Speaker John Boehner speaks about the partial government shutdown and the outlook for negotiations over the budget and debt ceiling.
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It’s quite possible that the events of the next few days will define House Speaker John Boehner’s political legacy and his place in history.

Does that sound a bit over-dramatic? Maybe, but as of Tuesday it looks as if Mr. Boehner is the key Washington player who will determine whether the US defaults on its debts. Whether he’s willing or able to do so, and what that means for his chaotic GOP conference, are things that could reverberate in the US economy and government for a long time to come and overshadow other notable events of Boehner’s career.

Here’s the state of play: In recent days Senate majority leader Harry Reid and minority leader Mitch McConnell have been working on a fiscal deal to (temporarily) reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling. The basic structure of the deal involves discussions for a longer-term budget and tax play as well as some minor tax changes for Obamacare.

But conservative House Republicans consider this plan to be surrender. So Boehner and the rest of the House GOP leadership on Tuesday began a quick-step process to see if they can produce their own bill before the Senate presents them with a fait accompli.

That’s caused the Senate leaders to hit the pause button on their own talks, as they wait to see what Boehner can produce. Thus, at the moment, it’s the speaker of the House who has the legislative steering wheel in his hands.

Problem is, he’s having a hard time rounding up votes. Conservatives were cool to Boehner’s opening proposal, which would have reopened the government and raised the debt ceiling on the Senate’s schedule, and added a two-year delay in Obamacare’s medical device tax, plus elimination of federal payments toward the health insurance of members of Congress and the cabinet.

“There are no decisions about what exactly we will do,” said Boehner at a brief press conference following a Tuesday morning conference of the House GOP.

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