GOP leaders were eyeing a vote on a plan crafted by the conservative Republican Study Committee that attached a series of spending cut targets and a freeze on new federal regulations to a bill that raised the debt ceiling thorough March 2017. After a closed door meeting on the issue on Wednesday morning, several House Republicans told CNN they expected a vote on that measure on Friday.
Now, leaders are pulling back and trying to come up with Plan B. And they want to get this done before next week's leadership election to replace outgoing House Speaker John Boehner.
"That particular proposal was floated by the RSC, and was an opportunity for leadership to take the pulse of the Conference as we assess all of our options, which we continue to do," one senior House GOP leadership aide, who refused to be identified, told CNN.
Even if House Republicans could pass a bill with the kinds of conditions the RSC plan included, or a mix of others, Democrats in the Senate have the votes to block it. Conversely, it's not clear there are enough GOP votes in the House for a clean bill to pass there. About 30 Republicans would have to join with all the Democrats for a clean bill to pass the House.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, asked what they were planning to do, told reporters they had options but he declined to describe them.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters she thought the House needed to vote by Friday in order to give the Senate the time to pass something before the deadline set by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.
Pelosi called the RSC proposal a "terrible bill" and said, "the full faith and credit of the United States not only should not be questioned, it should not be negotiable."
Meantime, the Senate is standing by to act on whatever can pass the House.
"We're going to wait to see how the House deals with that issue and respond accordingly," Senate Majority Mitch McConnell told reporters this week.
Senators and top aides from both parties privately acknowledge they expect a clean debt hike ultimately will pass the Senate. However, before they can get to that vote, senators may cast several votes on debt increases that also would cut spending or take other steps to rein in government debt.
"Before you ask the bank to raise your debt limit, you've got to make arrangements to pay off the underlying debt," said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the number No. 2 Republican in the chamber, who added that reforming the way the government spends is a top priority for his members.
But Cornyn, who also insists Republicans should not allow a default to occur, acknowledged Democrats would be able to block those measures, which would need 60 votes to pass.
"You understand the challenges that we face," Cornyn told CNN, explaining that he expects the House and Senate may trade bills back and forth before the deadline.
With all the uncertainty, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid took a jab at Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, who is in line to become the next House speaker but said he doesn't want the new responsibilities to interfere with his family time.
"If he gets the job, I hope he will not take weekends off until we do something to solve the debt crisis and to fund the government," Reid said on the Senate floor.