One night this week, "Team Boehner" — about two dozen members of the speaker's inner circle — huddled in his office. They compiled a list of wavering lawmakers, dividing up who should reach out to whom.
Boehner has reminded lawmakers of the favors he has done for them in Washington, noting their positions on preferred committees. In so many words, he is asking for their votes.
"I've never seen an instance where a speaker was so involved on day-to-day minutiae, on the details," said Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.), a 12-year veteran of the House. "His heart and soul is in here. There's no doubt he has a lot at stake."
Even if Boehner wins this battle, the war may remain a draw. In the Democratic-controlled Senate, Reid has declared the GOP bill "dead on arrival." Obama has threatened a veto.
Some compromise may yet arise, and then Boehner will be tested anew: If the final product strays too far from GOP goals, will Republicans revolt? If he must rely on support from Democrats and Rep. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, the minority leader, will it threaten his leadership?
"He's in a terribly difficult situation," Peters said. Even if the final product is a bill Republicans detest, he said, Boehner must show he can rally at least a majority of his GOP votes. "He's speaker of the House. You got to get a bill."