The Senate will remain in session every day, including weekends, until passage of a bill that resolves a dispute on raising the federal debt ceiling, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced on Monday.
“The Senate has no more important task than making sure the United States does not fail to pay our bills for pre-existing obligations like Social Security for the first time in our history,” Reid said in a news release.
“To ensure that we meet this responsibility, the Senate will stay in session every day, including Saturdays and Sundays, from now until Congress passes legislation that prevents the United States from defaulting on our obligations,” Reid said.
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The move is no major surprise. Reid has argued that Congress lacks adequate time to draft, score, and pass a bill now, because of the failure to reach a deal by the end of last week. The expanded schedule will give the slow-moving Senate four or more days to legislate before the August 2 deadline set by the Treasury Department for a debt-ceiling increase.
The most likely solution to the dilemma now is a joint proposal by Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., under which Congress would grant President Obama power to raise the debt ceiling in three steps totaling $2.5 trillion if a supermajority in each chamber does not ultimately object.
Under a scenario sketched by Senate aides, the Senate would pass the plan and send it to the House, which would add cuts more or less agreed on in talks among congressional leaders and the White House totaling perhaps $1.5 trillion over 10 years. The bill would then return to the Senate for final passage.
The deal could also include creation of bipartisan panel with power to recommend deficit cuts that would get expedited consideration and a two-year spending freeze.
But the ping-pong nature of the plan to enact the proposal leaves time short. And conservatives in the Senate, particularly Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., have threatened to filibuster the plan, which would extend the time required.
Even with weekends used, Congress will be hard-pressed to clear a deal by August 2, aides said, especially with this week devoted to a votes on a conservative "cut, cap, and balance" plan and a balanced-budget amendment that cannot pass the Senate.
This article appears in the July 18, 2011 edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.
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