As Budget Talks Shift Back to Senate Leaders, 14 Senators Work on an Alternative

US Senator Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, walks to the weekly policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, October 15, 2013. Washington's risky game of political brinkmanship neared crisis point Tuesday, with no deal yet nailed down to avoid a catastrophic US debt default, just 36 hours before a crucial deadline. Despite global fears that the US government could run out of money to pay its bills on Thursday, the rift cleaving US politics and a fight for the soul of the Republican Party thwarted compromise. Hopes a nascent deal between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate would open the way to resolve a fight over raising the US borrowing limit and reopening government proved over optimistic.
National Journal
Elahe Izad
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Elahe Izad
Oct. 15, 2013, 6:56 p.m.

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.

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