The expectation that the 2011 budget deal will pass today got better when Rand Paul announced he wouldn’t filibuster the bill. Harry Reid shortly thereafter announced he had secured a unanimous consent agreement to move forward on it. We finally know the limits of Rand Paul’s ideology:

“If you’re going to lose the battle and all you did was shut the government down for three days, then really that maybe is empty partisanship,” he said.

Good to know.

The decks have been cleared in the Senate, then. So there’s the House, which has to pass the bill today. If uneasiness with the latest projections on outlays starts a fire in the GOP caucus, it could be difficult to get to 218. The House Democratic leadership is planning to vote against the bill, including Nancy Pelosi, so there won’t be too many votes to pick up among Democrats to make up the difference. I see the vote being close but eventually passing.

(UPDATE: Pelosi says she would have Democrats step in if Boehner fails to find 218 votes today.)

And this actually sets up the next fight. Boehner can then go to negotiations with his concern about the more right-leaning elements of his caucus, saying that many of them bolted on the 2011 budget bill and that many more will do the same on the debt limit vote without concessions. It’s a calculated tactic.

Another tactic you’re almost certain to see on the debt limit bill is an open rule. This served Republicans very well in the budget debate: through an open rule, conservative members included dozens of riders, many of which had to be bought off with additional spending cuts. Lawmakers became wedded to their particular rider, and that helped Boehner in negotiations. Here are just some of the amendment possibilities for an open rule on the debt limit:

Rep. John Culberson, R-Tex.:
I urge you to attach a full repeal of Obamacare to the debt ceiling increase legislation…

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.:
Goodlatte said he hasn’t decided on concessions for such a move, but said he might attach his support for a higher ceiling to his pet legislative project — a Constitutional amendment to require balanced federal budgets, he said…

Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., in a Fox News interview:
I’ve said that I’d be more than willing to consider voting for the debt increase if it comes with structural, real structural, what I call cultural change to Washington [...]

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.:
I will vote to defeat an increase in the debt limit unless it is the last one we ever authorize and is accompanied by a plan for fundamental tax reform, an overhaul of our regulatory structure, a cut to discretionary spending, a balanced-budget amendment, and reforms to save Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

So the House can hold a debt limit vote in May, and attach hundreds of riders to it. And given the process on the 2011 budget, they can refuse to budge without those riders, eventually meeting the President halfway. There’s a plausible way to shut that process down entirely, by sending Wall Street to Capitol Hill and having them tell Republicans not to meddle with the forces of nature. But the President has already signaled, through the timing of the negotiation process in his deficit speech, that he could accept something other than a clean debt limit bill. So bet on the open rule.