Talks Swing Back to Reid, McConnell

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) walks through the Capitol building on October 14, 2013 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Michael Catalini and Billy House
Michael Catalini Billy House
Oct. 15, 2013, 6:56 p.m.

With the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s dead­line for de­fault roughly a day away, ne­go­ti­ations shif­ted again to the Sen­ate late Wed­nes­day, with Demo­crat­ic and Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers op­tim­ist­ic that a deal could be an­nounced soon.

Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id and Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell re­star­ted talks that had stalled for much of Tues­day soon after it be­came clear that the House’s at­tempt to pass le­gis­la­tion had failed. And a deal, which lead­ers had said was close to the fin­ish line be­fore Tues­day’s de­tour, ap­peared to co­alesce quickly.

The agree­ment, which had yet to be an­nounced by the lead­ers as of Tues­day night, would ex­tend the debt lim­it un­til Feb. 7, and in­clude a con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion un­til Jan. 15, ac­cord­ing to a source fa­mil­i­ar with the ne­go­ti­ations. The deal would also in­clude a Dec. 15 dead­line for a budget con­fer­ence re­port, as well as an an­ti­fraud pro­vi­sion de­signed to veri­fy in­come for those who re­ceive sub­sidies un­der the Af­ford­able Care Act, the source said.

The next pro­ced­ur­al steps in the Sen­ate are still murky. Sen­at­ors and aides say there was con­cern that the agree­ment could be held up — al­though not com­pletely blocked, as­sum­ing Re­id and Mc­Con­nell in­struct sen­at­ors not to fili­buster — be­cause of the Sen­ate’s rules re­quir­ing up to 30 hours be­fore a vote.

“There are ways for mem­bers of the Sen­ate to delay even a bi­par­tis­an agree­ment if they wish,” said Ma­jor­ity Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill. “I hope they don’t.”

Asked wheth­er Re­id would file for clo­ture Tues­day night on a Sen­ate bill, Durbin said the de­tails were still be­ing worked out with Mc­Con­nell.

“Ba­sic­ally in or­der to move this quickly [Wed­nes­day] or as soon there­after as pos­sible, we need the co­oper­a­tion of mem­bers,” Durbin said. “If they want to drag their feet, use every ob­jec­tion they can, this could take a few days.”

The Treas­ury De­part­ment set Oct. 17 — Thursday — as a dead­line for de­fault, and Sec­ret­ary Jac­ob Lew is to meet with Pres­id­ent Obama on Wed­nes­day.

After arch­ing their backs at the no­tion that House Speak­er John Boehner would pro­pose a GOP al­tern­at­ive to the Re­id-Mc­Con­nell deal, Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic lead­ers seemed re­as­sured that the bi­par­tis­an talks were back on track.

“Things look a lot bet­ter than they did sev­er­al hours ago,” said Sen. Chuck Schu­mer, D-N.Y., who de­clined to elab­or­ate.

Durbin would not con­firm that a deal had been inked, but soun­ded op­tim­ist­ic.

“There was def­in­itely a sus­pen­sion of ne­go­ti­ations un­til Speak­er Boehner’s plight was ob­vi­ous,” he said. “They’re still work­ing on the de­tails between Sen­at­ors Mc­Con­nell and Re­id. We’re mak­ing good pro­gress.”

One sign of what’s at stake came when the cred­it-rat­ing agency Fitch put the United States’ AAA cred­it rat­ing un­der re­view on Tues­day. In a state­ment, the agency said that “al­though Fitch con­tin­ues to be­lieve that the debt ceil­ing will be raised soon, the polit­ic­al brink­man­ship and re­duced fin­an­cing flex­ib­il­ity could in­crease the risk of a U.S. de­fault.”

Of course, law­makers have had months to avert the cur­rent crisis. But as il­lus­trated yet again Tues­day, olive branches are eas­ily snapped in this Con­gress, and par­tis­an­ship and polit­ic­al pres­sure are highly val­ued. The im­plo­sion on Tues­day of the House plan to put le­gis­la­tion to a vote was a very pub­lic ex­ample.

That plan, as ini­tially laid out to rank-and-file mem­bers in a closed-door meet­ing, seemed to build on the Sen­ate frame­work, with the ad­di­tion of items that the House Re­pub­lic­ans have been seek­ing, such as a two-year delay of a med­ic­al-device tax and lan­guage to ban gov­ern­ment health care sub­sidies for mem­bers of Con­gress and the pres­id­ent’s Cab­in­et.

But it be­came clear­er throughout the day that the plan was simply in­ad­equate for some con­ser­vat­ives. By early even­ing, the death knell may have come in the form of an an­nounce­ment by the in­flu­en­tial con­ser­vat­ive group Her­it­age Ac­tion, which op­posed the bill and an­nounced that it would be in­cluded as a key vote on the group’s le­gis­lat­ive score­card.

It was soon after that House Rules Com­mit­tee Chair­man Pete Ses­sions, R-Texas, an­nounced that a hear­ing to set pro­ced­ures for a floor vote Tues­day night was post­poned. Ses­sions and oth­er House GOP lead­ers re­treated to Boehner’s of­fice. Shortly be­fore 7 p.m., they emerged to say there would not be any House votes Tues­day night.

Ses­sions did not say what, ex­actly, the House planned to do on Wed­nes­day bey­ond hav­ing more “dis­cus­sion.” But he did re­mark, “We’re wait­ing for the Sen­ate to get its work done.”

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