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Congress

Senate Leaders Express Optimism That They Are Nearing Agreement

(Richard A. Bloom)

October 14, 2013

President Obama and congressional leaders abruptly postponed a planned Monday afternoon meeting as the top Senate Democrat and Republican reported mutual optimism to being close to a deal on lifting the debt ceiling and reopening the federal government.

Just three days remain until Thursday's deadline for the government to run out of authority to borrow money. The markets briefly jumped after Senate leaders said they were optimistic a deal was near, with the Dow Jones spiking by about 30 points.

Congressional leaders who were set to attend the 3 p.m. Monday meeting at the White House—announced earlier in the day—included Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, along with House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

 

But both Reid and McConnell made short statements an hour before the White House meeting was set to begin, saying they are very hopeful.

"I am very optimistic we will reach an agreement this week," Reid said.

And McConnell said that over the past couple of days, "[we've had] a very constructive exchange of views. Those discussions continue, and I share his optimism we're going to get an agreement in a reasonable period of time."

The White House confirmed the meeting delay in order "to allow leaders in the Senate time to continue making important progress towards a solution that raises the debt limit and reopens the government." But Senate aides and the White House provided no indication of when it may be rescheduled.

Reid visited McConnell's office multiple times Monday, with the hopes of hammering out an agreement ahead of the afternoon White House meeting.

"They are involved in good faith negotiations, and those talks will continue," says McConnell spokesman Don Stewart.

McConnell said they've had "a couple of very useful discussions."

According to a White House official, Obama had intended at the meeting to "[make] clear the need for Congress to act to pay our bills, and reopen the government," and that he also said he would "reiterate our principles to the leaders: We will not pay a ransom for Congress reopening the government and raising the debt limit."

Monday included a number of huddles that took place in the Capitol. A bipartisan group of 12 senators met at 9 a.m., including Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., according to a Senate Democratic aide.

The meeting was part of continued negotiations around a plan presented by Collins to fund the government for six months at an annualized sequester-level rate of $986 billion. It would also extend the debt ceiling through Jan. 31, 2014, and direct an immediate Senate and House conference on a budget, with conferees required to report by Jan. 15.

The plan proposed by Collins also would delay the 2.3 percent medical-device excise tax for two years. To offset the cost of repealing that tax established by the Affordable Care Act on such things as pacemakers and defibrillators, the plan would extend "pension smoothing" provisions passed in 2012 as part of a federal highway bill.

In addition, the plan presented by Collins also included income-verification provisions so that only eligible individuals receive subsidies under the new insurance exchanges. And it would provide federal agencies with flexibility to mitigate the impact of the sequester cuts, with oversight of those moves by the House and Senate committees of jurisdiction. 

Collins, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and other Republicans met with McConnell later in the morning. "The focus is on the leadership right now," Collins said.

"We had a good meeting with Senator McConnell, and it's clear everybody is working really hard to try and get to a solution," Collins added.

After Reid met with McConnell, Sens. Manchin, Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., Angus King, I-Maine, and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., met with Reid in Reid's office. The senators declined to give many details of the conversation, but sounded an optimistic note on the status of negotiations. Manchin described them as "very encouraging."

All eyes remain on leadership in the Senate. Manchin described bipartisan efforts by himself, Collins, and others as "a contribution" to the talks in progress between McConnell and Reid. A final agreement could come as soon as Monday afternoon or evening. "I think they're close, I think they could," Manchin said. "It's just a matter of procedure, when we vote and what we do."

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