WASHINGTON -- Think of Republicans' Tuesday vote against raising America's debt cap as their "honest, I do still love you" sop to last summer's fling, the Tea Party.
Because, like all such overheated romances, this one could soon be headed for an ugly breakup over money.
Last year, the Tea Party's interests and those of big business were nearly perfectly aligned, with companies pouring millions into campaigns to oust Democrats. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce alone dropped some $33 million, with 93 percent going to elect Republicans.
But things are different this year, and nowhere will the split be starker than in the fight over raising the debt limit. Those groups represented by the Chamber want it to go up, in order to avoid what Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner warns would be a catastrophe. The Tea Party -- especially its more loosely organized, grassroots members -- adamantly want the debt ceiling to stay put.
The big crunch will come sometime before August, when the United States is expected to begin defaulting on its debt if the limit is not raised. Then, Republicans -- and the 86 freshmen who were powered into office on the Tea Party surge in 2010 –- will have to decide if they embrace the entreaties of the business world to increase the limit or the ardent pleas of their tea-sipping supporters who want Uncle Sam's credit card cut off at the current $14.3 trillion.
"What we're looking for is real control of Congressional spending, not some fallacy they invent to make the electorate feel good for a temporary time," said Mark Meckler, a co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots.
A fallacy, in his eyes, would be the plan Congressional Republicans have embraced to raise the debt ceiling once they get concessions on spending cuts and budget reforms from Democrats.
What Meckler says he and some 95% of Tea Partiers want is no hike in the debt ceiling at all.
"The vast majority simply say don't raise the debt limit," he said.
But House Republicans are pursuing the blueprint set forth by the Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber recently wrote a letter to legislators demanding that the limit be raised, accompanied by the spending reforms, sounding very much like Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), although he emphasizes that spending reforms should be enacted before a deal is made.
That letter came just days after a coalition of 40 large business groups, including the Chamber, sent a similar letter to Congressional leaders that advocated raising the spending cap to avoid economic calamity but added, "Tough calls on U.S. spending must be made as part of a debate about the budget."
"And both of them are equally important," said Chamber of Commerce spokesman J.P. Fielder, referring to spending cuts and raising the debt ceiling.
But not to the Tea Partiers who think that hitting the debt limit doesn't necessarily mean defaulting and won't lead to the catastrophe predicted by many of those same businesses and Geithner.
"That is a lie. That is an outright, total, unadulterated fabrication," proclaimed Meckler of the prediction that the United States will default on Aug. 2 if the ceiling is not raised.
"We bring in over $220 billion a month in revenue. We owe roughly $11 billion in interest payments on debt," he said. "My math, and I'm a pretty simple guy, says there's plenty of room to make those payments. So that would be a choice to default on those payments."
A recent Congressional Research Service report, which suggests the Treasury may not have the authority to pick and choose which obligations the United States can pay first, contradicts Meckler's reasoning.
But the adamant anti-debt crowd do have some allies on Capitol Hill, who don't think the business community should have much say on debt issues.
"It doesn't matter what business thinks. I mean, this is about the future of the country," Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) told The Huffington Post.
Nevertheless, GOP leaders are working to extract reforms in return for keeping the credit flowing. The back-and-forth negotiations that have ensued are making some observers nervous.
"I think there'll be a be a more sizable disruption [than some debt opponents predict]," said Tony Fratto, a former George W. Bush Administration official who worked on six debt hikes. "I don't believe that it's worth testing. I don't want to use the full faith and credit of the U.S. government as a guinea pig."
Yet Fratto acknowledges the political bind facing Republicans. "The view that the debt ceiling should only be raised along with a strong and credible agreement on reducing spending in the future is not the view of some fringe group. That happens to be the view of the majority of the American people," he said.
"And by the way, I think that's the view of any member of Congress who's up for reelection in 2012, too," he added. "I don't know a member of Congress, Democrat or Republican, who wants to face voters in 2012 having voted to raise the debt ceiling absent an agreement on spending."
For the Chamber's part, it can find some unlikely allies in Democrats, who are at least professing the desire to make budget cuts but are more determined to raise the debt limit –- and think Republicans are playing with fire in their attempts to appease the Tea Party.
"The biggest enemy of business is uncertainty, and what they're doing is they're creating a heightened state of uncertainty," said Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), a senior member of the Financial Services Committee.
"The Chamber is smart enough to know that, and they should be telling these guys that," said Ackerman.
He also appreciated the irony of the Chamber having helped to elect a Tea Party freshman class that might now ignore its advice.
"They've created a Frankenstein's monster. And the Frankenstein's monster they've created is not acting in the interest of its creators," Ackerman said.
For their part, Tea Partiers believe the real monster is the alliance of well-heeled special interests and lawmakers.
"When you've got big business and big government and big labor in bed together, those are dangerous combinations, and they always leave out the interests of the American citizen," said Meckler.
Whatever deal the GOP and Democrats cut to increase the debt limit -- and almost everyone is certain they will cut one -- it promises to have lasting consequences for the relationship between Republicans who vote "Yes" and the Tea Partiers they danced with during the last election.
"They'll be held accountable," Meckler said. "I don't think any single vote is going to cause anyone to be primaried but this is a major one. And I think all votes are being tallied and remembered, and come 2012 when it's time for primaries, I think you're going to see a lot of folks who didn't expect to be facing primaries facing primaries."