Congress Closes In on a Deal

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WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 14: (L-R) U.S. Senate Minority Whip Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) walk from McConnell's office to the Senate Chamber on October 14, 2013 in Washington, DC. As Democratic and Republican leaders negotiate an end to the shutdown and a way to raise the debt limit, the White House postponed a planned Monday afternoon meeting with Boehner and other Congressional leaders. The government shutdown is currently in its 14th day. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
National Journal
Billy House Elahe Izadi
Oct. 14, 2013, 4:52 p.m.

With a wary eye to­ward po­ten­tial tur­bu­lence from House Re­pub­lic­ans, Sen­ate lead­ers are seek­ing to fi­nal­ize a deal to raise the debt ceil­ing and end the gov­ern­ment shut­down in a way that could re­ceive strong bi­par­tis­an sup­port in the Sen­ate.

“Per­haps to­mor­row will be a bright day. We hope it will be,” Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id said Monday night on the Sen­ate floor.

Ad­ded Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell: “I think it’s safe to say we’ve made sub­stan­tial pro­gress.”

Such op­tim­ism promp­ted a post­pone­ment earli­er Monday of a planned meet­ing of con­gres­sion­al lead­ers — in­clud­ing House Speak­er John Boehner and House Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi — with Pres­id­ent Obama at the White House.

With just three days un­til the gov­ern­ment would reach the lim­it on its bor­row­ing au­thor­ity, the news Monday from the two long­time polit­ic­al foes was re­ceived pos­it­ively in the mar­kets, with the Dow Jones spik­ing by about 30 points.

Of course, any deal would have to win ap­prov­al of not only Obama, but the Re­pub­lic­an-led House, where con­ser­vat­ive hard-liners have been push­ing for con­ces­sions on the Af­ford­able Care Act to re­start gov­ern­ment fund­ing.

As of early Monday even­ing, it was un­clear wheth­er any anti-Obama­care meas­ures would be in­cluded in the emer­ging deal, though at least two pro­pos­als were be­ing dis­cussed. Some grumbling was already emer­ging from House con­ser­vat­ives. “Re­id says this is go­ing to pass the Sen­ate? We’ll see,” said Rep. Tim Huel­skamp, R-Kan. He said that with “98 or 99 per­cent of Obama­care” left in place, “I don’t see how that will pass over here” in the House.

As the de­tails were still be­ing fi­nal­ized, one source said that it looked like the deal would re­open the gov­ern­ment un­til Jan. 15 and raise the debt lim­it un­til Feb. 7. The agree­ment also would dir­ect an im­me­di­ate bicam­er­al con­fer­ence on the budget and on a long-term tax and spend­ing plan, with the con­fer­ees hav­ing to re­port by Dec. 13. That is sig­ni­fic­ant be­cause the next round of so-called se­quester cuts are to kick in in early Janu­ary. Pre­sum­ably, one of the first tasks of the con­fer­ees would be to re­com­mend wheth­er those cuts should be res­cin­ded, as Demo­crats in the Sen­ate want, or go ahead as sched­uled.

Off the table as of late Monday even­ing was a delay or re­peal of the med­ic­al-device ex­cise tax which helps fund com­pon­ents of the Af­ford­able Care Act.

But an­oth­er GOP-pushed meas­ure, to re­quire tight­er in­come-veri­fic­a­tion stand­ards for people who re­ceive sub­sidies un­der the new health care law, ap­par­ently was part of the deal. Sources also said an agree­ment could in­clude a one-year delay of the re­in­sur­ance tax tied to Obama­care, which em­ploy­ers pay.

Some House Re­pub­lic­ans have said their con­fer­ence, not want­ing to get pinned down on a deal hashed out in the Sen­ate with little time left be­fore Thursday’s debt-ceil­ing dead­line, might un­veil their own new plan this week. But as of Monday, said seni­or aides, no new coun­ter­pro­pos­al had been pre­pared. It re­mained un­clear if Boehner would put such a Sen­ate deal on the House floor if a ma­jor­ity of his rank-and-file Re­pub­lic­ans op­posed it.

Sen. Bob Cork­er, R-Tenn., said he didn’t ex­pect a deal to come com­pletely to­geth­er un­til Wed­nes­day. He also said it is still un­clear wheth­er the deal, pro­ced­ur­ally, would ori­gin­ate from the House or the Sen­ate.

Cork­er said there wer­en’t “ma­jor points of con­ten­tion, it just isn’t fully baked yet.”

“We wasted two months, we could have been build­ing to­ward the kind of spend­ing re­forms, man­dat­ory spend­ing re­forms that are good for our na­tion,” he ad­ded. Then, in a ref­er­ence to the tar­get­ing of Obama­care, he said, “So we’ve ba­sic­ally blown the last two months with some of our mem­bers and a lot of the House fo­cused on a shiny ob­ject that was nev­er go­ing to hap­pen.”

“I think both lead­ers on the Sen­ate side are work­ing to­ward a strong out­come,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

“You def­in­itely want 65-plus votes, you’d like to have that,” Manchin said of what might be needed in a Sen­ate vote. “A good, strong out­come helps them a lot. I think it helps Speak­er Boehner also.”

Manchin ad­ded: “I think the biggest thing we have come out of this whole thing, hope­fully, is the man­dat­ory budget con­fer­ees — get the budget con­fer­ence sit­ting down and do­ing the job it’s sup­posed to do.”

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said he wouldn’t seek to block the agree­ment emer­ging out of the Sen­ate. “I think we need to get an agree­ment and open gov­ern­ment back up.”

A meet­ing of Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans sched­uled for late Monday was post­poned un­til Tues­day morn­ing, as ne­go­ti­ations con­tin­ued.

Sen. John Mc­Cain, R-Ar­iz., noted that the con­tours of the deal are sim­il­ar to the bi­par­tis­an pro­pos­al brokered by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. He said he would like to see the med­ic­al-device tax delayed for a couple of years or re­pealed, but was just speak­ing to what he would like to see.

He also pre­dicted that Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans will rally around the deal. When asked why, Mc­Cain pulled out a piece of pa­per de­tail­ing res­ults of a new ABC News/Wash­ing­ton Post poll, and read aloud: ” ‘A new high of 74 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans dis­ap­prove of the way Re­pub­lic­ans here in the Con­gress are hand­ling Wash­ing­ton’s budget crisis.’ That’s why,” Mc­Cain said.

Though House Re­pub­lic­ans have re­jec­ted oth­er items re­cently passed by the Sen­ate with strong bi­par­tis­an sup­port, Manchin noted that “there’s a little bit more at stake right now.”

Boehner was kept up­dated by Mc­Con­nell on the dis­cus­sions with Re­id. The speak­er later called in oth­er top House GOP lead­ers to his of­fice for talks. A meet­ing with the full House GOP mem­ber­ship is set for Tues­day morn­ing.

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