Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's delivery doesn't seem designed to persuade—at least not in the usual sense. With his hushed tones and tendency to look down as he speaks, he'll wear you down before you rise to your feet in rapturous agreement with his argument.
"I don't come here to argue and badger people," Reid said, standing beside a poster reading, "Open the Government/Pay our bills/And let's negotiate," during a rare floor speech Tuesday preceded by a so-called live quorum call.
As the president held a news conference at the White House over the approaching debt limit, and with government still closed, Reid called for all senators to file to their desks and hear an important message.
But the spectacle on the floor hinted at no breakthrough; rather Reid told his colleagues that his position was no bluff and not merely a starting point for negotiations. The Senate CR and a clean debt-ceiling extension aren't just offers. They're the offers, in Democrats' view.
Surrounded by 98 of his colleagues, Reid launched a familiar-sounding speech that called on Republicans to accept the Democratic Senate's measures. Some Republicans and Democrats strained to hear Reid. Others pulled out cell phones to read. Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and Carl Levin of Michigan listened with their hands on their chins.
At the heart of Reid's logic is that Republicans will not want to risk the perception of causing a default.
"I'm cynical by nature. That way I'm not disappointed as much as my friends who are optimistic," Reid said. "I am optimistic, [though], the Republicans are not going to hold the full faith of the United States hostage."
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky rose, after Reid all but urged him to get real. Republicans want to negotiate, was his message.
"We now have divided government. It means we have to talk to each other and get to an outcome," McConnell said. "And I think it's far past time to get that done, and I hope, given where we are today, that there's adequate incentive to get those talks started, principally between the majority leader and the speaker."
Sen. John McCain delivered a passionate speech urging his colleagues on both sides to work together, suggesting a repeal of the medical-device tax as a possible path beyond disagreement.
"We know how it's gonna end," McCain said, adding that the government would open and the debt ceiling would be raised. "Why don't we do this sooner rather than later?"
Later, Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray of Washington sought to go to a budget conference with the House, but was ultimately blocked once again.
Recently, Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., walking in the Senate subway tunnel, offered his view on how the problem would—or wouldn't any time soon—get solved.
"You've got the immovable object and the irresistible force," he said. "Both sides are dug in. Both sides are intransigent."
This article appears in the October 9, 2013 edition of NJ Daily.