Senators: Framework for a Deal is Under Discussion
WASHINGTON, D.C. (CNN)-
Possible compromise or more political harrumphing?
Senators from both parties negotiating a possible agreement to end the partial government shutdown and avoid a U.S. default this week said Monday they were making progress, and top congressional leaders were headed to the White House later in the afternoon for a meeting with President Barack Obama.
Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia told CNN the deal was 70% to 80% done, while Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee cited progress in the talks with Manchin and other colleagues from both parties.
“I’m more optimistic today at 9:50 (a.m.) than I was at last night when I went to bed,” Corker told reporters.
However, Manchin and moderate GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who have spearheaded the bipartisan talks, warned more work needs to be done.
“We’re making progress toward an agreement, but we’re not there yet,” Collins said.
According to Manchin, party leaders must work out vital specifics, signaling the still shaky prospects for completing an agreement before Thursday’s deadline for Congress to give the government authority to borrow more money to pay all its bills.
The framework under discussion is similar to a plan first floated last week by Manchin and Collins, which Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid initially rejected.
It would temporarily fund the government to end the shutdown that started October 1 and also raise the federal borrowing limit for a limited period.
At the same time, the proposal would set up House-Senate negotiations on a budget for fiscal year 2014, and delay for two years a tax on medical devices imposed under Obama’s signature health care reforms, Manchin said.
In another provision involving the 2010 Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare, the proposed compromise would strengthen verification measures for people getting federal subsidies to purchase health insurance.
“We’re going to continue to meet throughout the day, and the conversations have been very constructive,” Collins said.
Manchin told CNN’s “New Day” that Reid and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell “need to put the numbers to it.”
Early pushback from conservatives focuses on the budget talks, which would include flexibility to soften or eliminate forced spending cuts known as sequestration that were part of the agreement that resolved the last congressional showdown over the debt ceiling in 2011.
Corker said Democrats have retreated from a weekend push for the deal to wipe out the sequestration cuts, signaling progress on an issue that could have derailed agreement by both the Democratic-led Senate and the Republican-led House.
“It appeared the Democrats had wandered off the reservation and overreached over the last 48 hours,” said Corker, a veteran of many congressional budget battles.
CNN political analyst John Avlon said Monday that Democrats wanted to press what they perceive as an advantage over Republicans on how the public is perceiving the latest round of Washington budget and deficit brinksmanship.
“What’s behind it (are) poll numbers that saw Republicans getting their butt kicked because of this whole gamesmanship,” Avlon said.
Manchin said the brinksmanship was a chance to address what he called the “draconian cuts” of sequestration.
A new round of the across-the-board spending cuts for the military and other non-entitlement programs takes effect on January 15, he said.
As reported by CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash and CNN Senior White House Correspondent Jim Acosta, the main sticking point for now involves how long an agreement would fund the government to end the shutdown and increase the debt limit to enable required federal borrowing.
Democrats want the debt ceiling increase to extend through the November 2014 congressional elections to avoid similar showdowns in coming months.
At the same time, they seek a temporary spending plan to reopen the government while formal budget negotiations work out a longer-term agreement that can negate the impacts of the forced sequestration cuts.
Republicans, however, want a longer spending proposal that would lock in the planned sequestration cuts in coming months, with a shorter debt ceiling extension in order to negotiate further deficit-reduction measures.
Reid and McConnell along with other top senators began discussions over the weekend.
The Senate will meet again Monday at 2 p.m. ET, while the House comes back into session at noon ET.
A White House official said Obama would meet with the top Republican and Democratic congressional leaders at 3 p.m.
“With only a few days until the government runs out of borrowing authority, the President will make clear the need for Congress to act to pay our bills, and reopen the government,” the official said. “The President will also reiterate our principles to the leaders: we will not pay a ransom for Congress reopening the government and raising the debt limit.”
Watching developments closely in Washington, Wall Street greeted news of apparent progress positively. Stock indexes gained in afternoon trading after sharp early losses to start the week.
Mindful of the economic impact, senators from both parties expressed optimism a deal was in reach.
“I believe we can do it,” Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “I hope sensible people prevail, because at this point, it’s not just a shutdown and all of the damage it’s caused, but if we default on our debt, it will have a dramatic impact on the savings account, on the retirement account of average Americans.”
On the other side of the aisle, Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio said he also thinks Congress will find a way out of the crisis before Thursday, when the United States hits the debt ceiling.
“We will have decided as a Congress that we need to avoid going over the debt limit, and we’ll figure it out. And it will probably be a relatively short-term solution,” Portman said.
A weekend of rejections
Despite the positive prognoses, the only actions over the weekend involved one “no” after another.
• Reid said Saturday the plan Collins was assembling was no longer on the table, because it treated reopening the government as a “concession.” Reid continues to demand that any plan include a “clean” bill, one that raises the debt limit and reopens the government with no strings attached. However, Manchin’s comments Monday indicated the Collins plan remained alive.
• Republicans blocked a measure to extend the debt limit with no strings attached, refusing to support a procedural vote that would have brought it to the Senate floor.
• House Republican leaders said Obama rejected their proposal for a six-week extension of the federal debt ceiling.
• Meanwhile, Republicans objected to the prospect being floated over the weekend that the forced spending cuts of sequestration, which have cut deeply into federal operations since March, might be rolled back under any eventual deal.
The Treasury Department said it will be unable to pay the government’s bills unless the debt limit is increased by Thursday.
Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, said Saturday the consequences of a failure to raise the debt limit would be dire for economies around the world. She spoke to CNN’s Richard Quest at an Institute of International Finance conference in Washington.
“You know, I’ve just spent the last two days with representatives of about 188 countries around the world. I wouldn’t say they are confident. I would say they are concerned, and they are very anxious to see this crisis resolved, because they know it’s going to impact on their economy,” Lagarde said.
Obama spoke by phone with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Sunday to discuss the ongoing battle over the shutdown, the White House said. The two agreed on the need for a “clean debt limit increase” and a “clean continuing resolution to open up the government and end the shutdown.”
Mindful that the Thursday deadline is days away, House Republican leaders are considering all their options even as Republican and Democratic Senate leaders try to craft a deal on the debt ceiling, said a GOP leadership aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
One option Republican leaders are considering is sending back a measure to the Senate that would increase the debt limit; exactly what it would contain is unknown at this time.
But the aide noted that the House is able to move quicker than the Senate, and this idea could come into play. If a decision were made to pursue this idea, then it would require Democratic support to pass in the House.
Senate Democrats meet with president
Senate Democrats met with Obama for 75 minutes Saturday afternoon, and a Senate Democratic leadership aide said the party is unified.
“Democrats are willing to negotiate on anything Republicans want to discuss as soon as we reopen the government and pay our bills,” said the aide.
Another Democratic source said party leaders regard Republicans as lacking a coherent position. They hope McConnell can “cut through the clutter,” the source told CNN’s Dana Bash.
The sources, who are familiar with the talks, spoke on the condition of anonymity so they could speak candidly.
Even as he demanded a “clean” bill, Reid said he and McConnell are involved in “cordial” and “preliminary” discussions.
“I hope that our talking is some solace to the American people and the world,” Reid said. He said McConnell had approached him. “This hasn’t happened until now,” Reid said.
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