The stakes are stark for the leaders of both parties. For Boehner–the closest thing to a national Republican leader since Mitt Romney lost the presidential election last month–it was a humiliating setback. In a situation that plainly called for creativity–including the option of cobbling together a winning hand that included some Republican and some Democratic votes–Boehner bet all his money on the bulldog strategy that his party has favored in recent years: winning with solely the votes of his own majority. The strategy failed, and the timing was unfortunate–the first big vote after his party’s clobbering in the Nov. 6 general election. He was left weakly passing the responsibility squarely over to his rivals. He and perhaps his Tea Party-backed deputy, Eric Cantor, may face a serious challenge to their continued leadership when they go up for a vote before the entire House on Jan. 3.

For Obama, the risks are also high. Whereas he might be tempted to rejoice at the Republican pratfall and ridicule the party’s ineffectiveness, any satisfaction will be short-lived: with his opponent wounded, perhaps mortally, Obama now must come up with a fiscal plan for both parties, and persuade a majority to sign on. Unless he, too, is to suffer a loss of prestige, he will have to be the creative legislator who cobbles together that winning bipartisan hand.

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