House Plan Wrenches Senate Negotiations

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) talks to reporters after leaving the Senate GOP policy luncheon at the U.S. Captiol December 11, 2012 in Washington, DC. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and the Senate Republicans met for their weekly policy luncheon meeting and, with the 'fiscal cliff' looming, said President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats have 'refused to be pinned down on any spending cuts.'
National Journal
Elahe Izad and Michael Catalini
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Elahe Izad Michael Catalini
Oct. 15, 2013, 10 a.m.

With the pro­spect that House Re­pub­lic­an lead­er­ship could pass a plan to re­open gov­ern­ment and pre­vent a debt de­fault, talks between Sen­ate lead­ers have screeched to a halt, with Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans em­bra­cing House Speak­er John Boehner’s ap­proach and Sen­ate Demo­crats shoot­ing down an early ver­sion of the pro­pos­al.

“Every­body was very happy that Boehner was lead­ing. There would be al­most un­an­im­ous sup­port for the plan by Re­pub­lic­ans, and Demo­crats quite frankly couldn’t say no be­cause it would make sense,” said Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, R-S.C. “Every mem­ber of the Re­pub­lic­an con­fer­ence wants to try to reach out to the House mem­bers and ask what can we do to help John Boehner. This is sort of an all-hands-on-deck ap­proach to try and help the speak­er to go on of­fense for the party and for the coun­try. Wheth­er we’ll get there, I don’t know.”

While for days it ap­peared a plan to re­open the gov­ern­ment and lift the debt ceil­ing would emerge from talks between Sen­ate lead­ers, Sen. Bob Cork­er, R-Tenn., said Tues­day that there is no Sen­ate plan and the fo­cus was all on the House. “At present, there’s the hope that the House will fig­ure out a way to send something over,” he said.

Sen­ate Demo­crats, mean­while, ex­ited their weekly caucus lunch­eons look­ing de­flated that the talks between Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id, D-Nev., and Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell, R-Ky., had stalled.

“We were on track and Boehner stepped in,” As­sist­ant Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said. “Mc­Con­nell’s wait­ing on Boehner and Boehner’s wait­ing on his caucus. If that sounds like fa­mil­i­ar script, we’ve seen this movie over and over again.”

Earli­er Tues­day, Re­id blas­ted Boehner’s pro­pos­al from the Sen­ate floor.

“It’s noth­ing more than a blatant at­tack on bi­par­tis­an­ship,” Re­id said. “Ex­trem­ist Re­pub­lic­ans in the House of Rep­res­ent­at­ive are at­tempt­ing to tor­pedo the Sen­ate’s bi­par­tis­an pro­gress with a bill that can’t pass the Sen­ate.”

Be­fore their con­fer­ence lunch­eon, Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans were quick to point out that if the House can pass the latest plan, then there’s little in­cent­ive for Mc­Con­nell to con­tin­ue his talks with Re­id.

“I don’t know of any reas­on for them to con­tin­ue as long as there’s something that may well come from the House,” Cork­er said. “Someone might view as un­der­min­ing what’s hap­pen­ing there if it did.”

Sen. John Mc­Cain, R-Ar­iz., re­but­ted the Demo­crat­ic lead­ers on the floor today, say­ing he did not un­der­stand their “vis­cer­al” con­dem­na­tion of the House plan.

“To con­demn be­fore the House even acts shows clearly that the pres­id­ent and the Demo­crats are much more in­ter­ested in win­ning than they are in resolv­ing this is­sue,” Mc­Cain later told re­port­ers.

Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors who had been in­volved in bi­par­tis­an ne­go­ti­ations be­fore the Re­id-Mc­Con­nell talks began cri­ti­cized Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic lead­er­ship for shoot­ing down Boehner’s move in the House. Re­id “over­played his hand,” said Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.

“The speak­er is try­ing to push through a pack­age that doesn’t have delay or de­fund of Obama­care and I think that the ma­jor­ity lead­er is un­der­es­tim­at­ing that the speak­er is really tak­ing lead­er­ship on this and try­ing to pass something that is more in the ball­park of what could pass both cham­bers,” she said.

Durbin and Sen. Chuck Schu­mer, D-N.Y., also panned the plan on the floor. Schu­mer later told re­port­ers that he is “hope­ful that Boehner’s deal will col­lapse re­l­at­ively soon, be­cause the longer it goes, it’s not go­ing to help get things done. The closer that brings us to D-Day, de­fault day.”

Demo­crats, in par­tic­u­lar, cri­ti­cize a part of Boehner’s House pro­pos­al that would lim­it the ex­traordin­ary means cur­rently avail­able to the Treas­ury.

“They would nev­er, ever con­sider do­ing this if it were Pres­id­ent Rom­ney, Pres­id­ent Bush or Pres­id­ent Bush or Pres­id­ent Re­agan,” Re­id said. “Nev­er.”

But why would Demo­crats so quickly shoot down the House plan?

Sen. Tom Ud­all, D-N.M., ex­plained that there were two choices fa­cing the lead­er­ship. Either they could ac­com­mod­ate the new­est House plan, or they could try to ratchet up the pres­sure against it.

As for which plan makes more sense, Ud­all says he trusts the Demo­crat­ic lead­er­ship’s ap­proach.

Mc­Cain has pre­vi­ously cited a Wash­ing­ton Post/ABC poll show­ing 74 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans dis­ap­prove of how Re­pub­lic­ans in Wash­ing­ton are hand­ling the budget crises as the reas­on why Re­pub­lic­ans would sup­port com­ing to a res­ol­u­tion this week. But what Demo­crats “don’t seem to un­der­stand is that their num­bers are go­ing down too, just not as steeply as Re­pub­lic­ans, so they’re not get­ting out of this un­scathed,” Mc­Cain said on Tues­day. “They have the clear ad­vant­age, but I can tell you this, from be­ing around here for a long time, what goes around, comes around.”

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