Just before the House melted down and Senate leaders resumed talks on a way out of the debt and budget crisis, a bipartisan group of 14 senators continued working Tuesday on an alternative plan for reopening the federal government and raising the ceiling on the nation's borrowing authority.
"It's important right now that we continue those discussions so that there is a group — if the leadership does not come together around something — that we come together around something and get this resolved," one member of the group, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said earlier in the day.
The senators, sans staffers, convened in the office of Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, late Tuesday afternoon. "We've just had a very good discussion, picking up where we left off, trying to find a way to out of this gridlock and the impasse," Collins said. "We're continuing to work and that's all we have to report."
Although senators wouldn't divulge whether there were any outstanding issues left to be ironed out, the only unresolved issue during their previous meeting on Monday morning was an income-verification requirement for Obamacare subsidies. "We came to agreement on everything except language on one issue," Collins said Monday evening. "It was a very fair deal that was fair to both Republicans and Democrats alike."
The last reading out of the plan also would fund the government for six months, lift the debt ceiling for two months, and delay implementation of the medical-device tax that would fund elements of the health care law. Although Senate leadership had rejected the plan, members of the group weren't shut out from talks between Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and they met in their respective leaders' offices on Monday.
Negotiations between Reid and McConnell resumed Tuesday night after a plan devised by House Republicans fell apart Tuesday afternoon. Even as Senate Republicans spent the day deferring to the House to act on a bill, the group of lawmakers saw their plan as a backup.
"I felt like when I went to bed last night that we would have a deal today between the leaders, or among all the leaders, and it didn't happen," said Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., a member of the group, on Tuesday. "We're still pulling for that, and you gotta be optimistic on that."
The group includes seven Republicans, six Democrats, and Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, who caucuses with Democrats. Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona was the latest to join the group.
The other Republicans in the group are Sens. Mike Johanns of Nebraska, Mark Kirk of Illinois, John McCain of Arizona, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Democrats in the group, along with Pryor, are Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire.