WASHINGTON – Republicans in the House of Representatives struggled Thursday to find enough votes within their own ranks to pass a GOP plan to cut future deficits and raise the nation’s debt limit — even though their party leaders were solidly behind the plan.

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio abruptly postponed an early evening vote. Instead, he and other leaders worked furiously to persuade 217 Republicans to vote for passage. Recalcitrant Republicans were summoned to Boehner’s office in an attempt to change their votes. About 10:25 p.m., Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters there would be no vote Thursday.

Many GOP conservatives, under strong pressure from tea party and other like-minded groups, were balking, saying the GOP plan wouldn’t cut federal spending enough — and some said that the nation’s debt limit shouldn’t be raised at all.

A defeat would be a huge embarrassment for Boehner. “This is a vote that John needs,” said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y.

And it could have broader consequences. Unless the debt limit, now $14.3 trillion, is raised by Tuesday, the government will lose its authority to borrow, global financial markets could panic and the stumbling U.S. economy could sink back into recession.

Even if Boehner prevailed, the GOP bill was expected to have a short life. The Democratic-dominated Senate was poised to kill the measure, possibly Thursday night. Even if it somehow won Senate passage, the White House vowed to veto it, and attention then would turn to last-ditch talks between the White House and congressional leaders on a final compromise plan.

“Our view is that we will be at stalemate after tonight,” said White House senior adviser David Plouffe, adding that the administration hopes for a breakthrough “perhaps over the weekend.”

Behind the scenes, there was hope that the long ugly impasse would be resolved before Tuesday, when the government is set to run out of borrowing authority, which could panic financial markets and kick the stumbling economy back into recession.

The House GOP plan and a rival one proposed by Senate Democrats are largely similar on deficit reduction. Each would cut virtually the same amount from discretionary spending, contains no tax increases and sets up special legislative committees to propose further savings. The White House says the major issue to be resolved centers on what mechanism would trigger further deficit reduction.

The stumbling block at the heart of the deadlock, though, remains the length of any new debt limit increase. Boehner, R-Ohio, wants a two-stage process, with a limited $900 billion increase in Treasury borrowing authority, then another vote later this year or early next. Democrats want only one vote to extend Treasury borrowing authority by $2.7 trillion through 2012, to avoid repeating this market-rattling showdown during a politically tense election season.

Lawmakers continued private talks Thursday in search of a deal as pleas from Americans for some resolution grew more urgent.

“Failure to increase the statutory debt limit in a timely fashion could have significant and long-lasting negative impact on the U.S. economy,” warned 115 business associations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in a letter to members of Congress. A default, they said, would “result in immediately higher interest rates, a likely decline in the dollar, a drop in the stock markets, potentially higher oil prices and a loss of economic growth and jobs.”

It was unclear how close negotiators were to a final deal, though leaders agreed something must be done.

“With the fragile economy that we have, the last thing we need to do is be playing around with August the 2nd and the unknown,” Boehner said.

But neither side signaled any movement. Publicly, each side accused the other of playing political games.

“Democratic leaders and the president himself have endorsed every feature of this legislation except one: and that’s the fact that it doesn’t allow the president to avoid another national debate about spending and debt until after the next presidential election,” said Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “This assurance is the only thing the president and Senate Democrats are holding out for right now.”

Senate Democrats insisted that the House debate was a waste of time.

“It’s not going to pass this house, because a short-term extension risks the same things that no extension does, a downgrade, a lack of confidence in the markets, and gridlock,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

Republicans thought that by approving the Boehner plan, their unity would strengthen their stand in last-ditch negotiations.

Boehner met one on one Thursday with wavering GOP lawmakers, but many felt pressure from constituents and special interest groups. The conservative Club for Growth sent congressional offices a “key vote alert” Thursday opposing any debt limit hike.

“The increase in the debt limit is immediate and real, but most of the spending cuts are stretched out over 10 years,” the club said. “History has shown that future spending cuts rarely materialize. Nothing binds a future Congress from erasing them.”

Another conservative group, Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, a group with links to political strategist Karl Rove, urged a vote for the Boehner plan, saying it included “real reforms.”

Boehner beefed up his package after conservatives complained it wouldn’t cut spending enough, and Thursday some GOP freshmen were enthusiastic.

“I’m excited because this is the battle I came to Congress to put my oar into the water for,” said freshman Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., who supported Boehner’s plan.

Other conservatives were still not satisfied.

Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, a leader in the tea party movement and a GOP presidential candidate, told a National Press Club audience, “I am committed to not raising the debt ceiling.”