Brushing off a pending House vote as irrelevant, Senate Democrats on Friday urged Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to reengage in talks on a compromise bill to raise the federal debt ceiling that could pass the upper chamber by midday Tuesday.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he will file cloture on Friday on his plan to raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling past the 2012 election and cut an estimated $2.5 trillion in spending over 10 years. That would set up what could be a key test vote at some point after 1 a.m. on Sunday morning and a final-passage vote on Tuesday. An additional cloture vote would be required on Monday. The bill would then have to return to the House, leaving just hours before the end of the day when Treasury says the United States will face default.
The key to success is the prospect of an agreement between Reid and McConnell on a compromise bill. Reid, who cannot pass any such legislation without at least seven GOP votes, said he is asking McConnell to “give me some idea as to what you think will improve the legislation” before cloture is filed on Friday.
If no Senate deal is reached first, Democrats say they could lose Sunday’s cloture vote on the Reid bill. A leadership aide maintained there was a "backup plan" for that contingency but refused to discuss it.
Leadership aides said Democrats for more than a week have been offering Republicans variations of an enforcement mechanism that would mandate deficit cuts if a bipartisan congressional committee created in the Reid bill fails to recommend them by year’s end. Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Reid cited conversations with several Republican senators about a trigger that includes both spending cuts and increased tax revenue.
But Democrats said Republicans have so far not agreed to any mechanism that includes increased tax revenue—the same dispute that has prevented a deal for months. “The trigger is not something that is obtainable” without a GOP concession on revenue, said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
McConnell for two days has refused to negotiate because hints of a Senate deal would undermine efforts by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to line up votes for his two-step proposal to raise the debt ceiling and cut spending.
“They’ve cut off discussions, negotiations, until they see what happens to Speaker Boehner’s package,” Conrad said.
“We need Senator McConnell to become engaged,” Schumer added.
A McConnell spokesman said the senator was focused on passage of the Boehner bill.
Democrats still plan to immediately vote to table the Boehner bill after it passes the House. But they have ruled out using the measure even as a vehicle in which to insert a compromise amendment after Boehner added to his bill a requirement that Congress approve a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution before the debt ceiling can be raised.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., called that step “outrageous,” and a surrender by House Republican leaders of any pretense of trying to craft a bill that can pass the Senate.