The fight over deficit reduction has revealed the weakness of Republican leaders in Congress, who appear incapable of controlling the tea-drinking monster they helped create.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) were mistaken if they thought they could easily remove the tea-party yoke they accepted in pledging opposition to any tax increase to raise the debt ceiling.

Resigned to the fact that he can't get his fellow Republicans to compromise, Boehner reportedly has been sitting silently in negotiations with President Obama while tea-party favorite Eric Cantor (R., Va.), the House majority leader, does the railing against any revenue proposal. Sources told the Washington Post that in talks Tuesday, Obama snapped at Cantor, "Am I dealing with him, or am I dealing with you?"

Meanwhile, McConnell acknowledged that the debt impasse is as much about politics as it is fiscal policy. "I have little question that as long as this president is in the Oval Office, a real solution is probably unattainable," he said.

Seeing no route to a compromise, McConnell offered a proposal Tuesday that would allow the president to increase the government's borrowing authority through a type of executive order. Congress could still vote down debt increases, but those votes would have to withstand a presidential veto.

For his trouble, McConnell was dumped on by tea-party organizations. FreedomWorks used Twitter to urge members to telephone McConnell to "help him find his spine." For America chairman Brent Bozell said, "If Mitch McConnell thinks caving to President Obama and allowing him to raise the debt ceiling without cuts is the way to become Senate majority leader, he is sorely mistaken."

Bozell's remarks may suggest a Republican takeover of the Senate. But any prediction of voters' ultimate response to this episode in the overarching debate about the size of government isn't so clear.

Obama touched a nerve when he refused to rule out Social Security and other government checks' being delayed if the debt limit isn't raised by the Aug. 2 deadline. By not compromising, Republicans are setting themselves up as the party to blame.

Inquirer Editorial:

Should the federal government raise the debt ceiling to pay for bills it already owes?

a) No.

b) Yes, without conditions.

c) Yes, but only with tax increases.

d) Yes, but only with spending cuts.

e) Yes, with tax increases and spending cuts.