Senate Leaders Express Optimism That They Are Nearing Agreement

Obama speaks about the economy on July 11, 2011.
National Journal
Billy House and Elahe Izadi
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Billy House Elahe Izadi
Oct. 14, 2013, 8:30 a.m.

Pres­id­ent Obama and con­gres­sion­al lead­ers ab­ruptly post­poned a planned Monday af­ter­noon meet­ing as the top Sen­ate Demo­crat and Re­pub­lic­an re­por­ted mu­tu­al op­tim­ism to be­ing close to a deal on lift­ing the debt ceil­ing and re­open­ing the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment.

Just three days re­main un­til Thursday’s dead­line for the gov­ern­ment to run out of au­thor­ity to bor­row money. The mar­kets briefly jumped after Sen­ate lead­ers said they were op­tim­ist­ic a deal was near, with the Dow Jones spik­ing by about 30 points.

Con­gres­sion­al lead­ers who were set to at­tend the 3 p.m. Monday meet­ing at the White House — an­nounced earli­er in the day — in­cluded Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id and Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell, along with House Speak­er John Boehner and Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi.

But both Re­id and Mc­Con­nell made short state­ments an hour be­fore the White House meet­ing was set to be­gin, say­ing they are very hope­ful.

“I am very op­tim­ist­ic we will reach an agree­ment this week,” Re­id said.

And Mc­Con­nell said that over the past couple of days, “[we’ve had] a very con­struct­ive ex­change of views. Those dis­cus­sions con­tin­ue, and I share his op­tim­ism we’re go­ing to get an agree­ment in a reas­on­able peri­od of time.”

The White House con­firmed the meet­ing delay in or­der “to al­low lead­ers in the Sen­ate time to con­tin­ue mak­ing im­port­ant pro­gress to­wards a solu­tion that raises the debt lim­it and re­opens the gov­ern­ment.” But Sen­ate aides and the White House provided no in­dic­a­tion of when it may be res­ched­uled.

Re­id vis­ited Mc­Con­nell’s of­fice mul­tiple times Monday, with the hopes of ham­mer­ing out an agree­ment ahead of the af­ter­noon White House meet­ing.

“They are in­volved in good faith ne­go­ti­ations, and those talks will con­tin­ue,” says Mc­Con­nell spokes­man Don Stew­art.

Mc­Con­nell said they’ve had “a couple of very use­ful dis­cus­sions.”

Ac­cord­ing to a White House of­fi­cial, Obama had in­ten­ded at the meet­ing to “[make] clear the need for Con­gress to act to pay our bills, and re­open the gov­ern­ment,” and that he also said he would “re­it­er­ate our prin­ciples to the lead­ers: We will not pay a ransom for Con­gress re­open­ing the gov­ern­ment and rais­ing the debt lim­it.”

Monday in­cluded a num­ber of huddles that took place in the Cap­it­ol. A bi­par­tis­an group of 12 sen­at­ors met at 9 a.m., in­clud­ing Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., ac­cord­ing to a Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic aide.

The meet­ing was part of con­tin­ued ne­go­ti­ations around a plan presen­ted by Collins to fund the gov­ern­ment for six months at an an­nu­al­ized se­quester-level rate of $986 bil­lion. It would also ex­tend the debt ceil­ing through Jan. 31, 2014, and dir­ect an im­me­di­ate Sen­ate and House con­fer­ence on a budget, with con­fer­ees re­quired to re­port by Jan. 15.

The plan pro­posed by Collins also would delay the 2.3 per­cent med­ic­al-device ex­cise tax for two years. To off­set the cost of re­peal­ing that tax es­tab­lished by the Af­ford­able Care Act on such things as pace­makers and de­fib­ril­lat­ors, the plan would ex­tend “pen­sion smooth­ing” pro­vi­sions passed in 2012 as part of a fed­er­al high­way bill.

In ad­di­tion, the plan presen­ted by Collins also in­cluded in­come-veri­fic­a­tion pro­vi­sions so that only eli­gible in­di­vidu­als re­ceive sub­sidies un­der the new in­sur­ance ex­changes. And it would provide fed­er­al agen­cies with flex­ib­il­ity to mit­ig­ate the im­pact of the se­quester cuts, with over­sight of those moves by the House and Sen­ate com­mit­tees of jur­is­dic­tion. 

Collins, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans met with Mc­Con­nell later in the morn­ing. “The fo­cus is on the lead­er­ship right now,” Collins said.

“We had a good meet­ing with Sen­at­or Mc­Con­nell, and it’s clear every­body is work­ing really hard to try and get to a solu­tion,” Collins ad­ded.

After Re­id met with Mc­Con­nell, Sens. Manchin, Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., An­gus King, I-Maine, and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., met with Re­id in Re­id’s of­fice. The sen­at­ors de­clined to give many de­tails of the con­ver­sa­tion, but soun­ded an op­tim­ist­ic note on the status of ne­go­ti­ations. Manchin de­scribed them as “very en­cour­aging.”

All eyes re­main on lead­er­ship in the Sen­ate. Manchin de­scribed bi­par­tis­an ef­forts by him­self, Collins, and oth­ers as “a con­tri­bu­tion” to the talks in pro­gress between Mc­Con­nell and Re­id. A fi­nal agree­ment could come as soon as Monday af­ter­noon or even­ing. “I think they’re close, I think they could,” Manchin said. “It’s just a mat­ter of pro­ced­ure, when we vote and what we do.”

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