Reid and McConnell Take the Reins

The Senate leaders are trying—for the first time together—to reach a deal to open government and extend the debt ceiling.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) (L) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speak during a ceremony to celebrate the life Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former South Africa President Nelson Mandela on the occasion of his 95th birthday in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center July 18, 2013 in Washington, DC. July 18 is Nelson Mandela Day, during which people are asked to give 67 minutes of time to charity and service in their community to honor the 67 years Mandela gave to public service. Mandela was admitted to a South African hospital June 8 where he is being treated for a recurring lung infection.
National Journal
Michael Catalin
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Michael Catalin
Oct. 12, 2013, 10:16 a.m.

With talks between GOP House lead­er­ship and the White House over re­open­ing gov­ern­ment and ex­tend­ing the debt lim­it broken down, Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic and Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers are now for the first time dis­cuss­ing a path bey­ond the im­passe.

With the bless­ing of their mem­bers, Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id and Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell began talk­ing in the last 24 hours to try to work out a deal that could also pass the House.

Sen­ate Demo­crats re­jec­ted a plan modeled on Sen. Susan Collins’ sug­ges­tion, which re­cently gained mo­mentum in the Sen­ate and in­cluded a six-month con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion to fund gov­ern­ment and a three-month debt lim­it ex­ten­sion. Her plan would also have delayed for two years the med­ic­al device tax used in part to fund Obama­care.

Rather, the con­tours of the de­bate seem to be tak­ing shape around the length of the con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion and debt lim­it ex­ten­sion, and on what Obama­care con­ces­sion Re­pub­lic­ans might ex­tract.

Demo­crats chafe at a short-term debt lim­it ex­ten­sion be­cause it would mean an­oth­er fisc­al fight in the heart of the hol­i­day buy­ing sea­son. They also ar­gue for a short­er CR so they can rene­go­ti­ate the topline spend­ing fig­ures and undo se­quest­ra­tion, which they view as harm­ful.

Re­pub­lic­ans, on the oth­er hand, want a short­er ex­ten­sion so they can pivot from this crisis, which has proved polit­ic­ally costly to them, to dis­cuss spend­ing cuts, en­ti­tle­ment re­form and tax re­form. They also want a longer con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion, which would lock in the se­quest­ra­tion cuts gained in the 2011 Budget Con­trol Act.

Des­pite the dis­agree­ments, there’s cau­tious op­tim­ism, now that Re­id and Mc­Con­nell are talk­ing.

“There’s such a uni­verse of pos­sib­il­it­ies out there but we haven’t quite agreed on a spe­cif­ic set,” As­sist­ant Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said.

Also on Sat­urday, Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans blocked Re­id’s debt-lim­it ex­ten­sion meas­ure in a pro­ced­ur­al vote, 53-45, along party lines. Re­id voted against his bill for par­lia­ment­ary reas­ons. The ex­ten­sion would have taken the gov­ern­ment through the Novem­ber 2014.

There was little in­cent­ive for Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors to vote with the ma­jor­ity to ad­vance the Demo­crat­ic pro­pos­al now that the lead­ers are dis­cuss­ing a path for­ward.

But the vote gave sen­at­ors an op­por­tun­ity to fur­ther their talks as mem­bers frat­ern­ized on the Sen­ate floor. For ex­ample, Mc­Con­nell and Sen. Chuck Schu­mer, D-N.Y., the No. 3 Sen­ate Demo­crat, sat huddled to­geth­er talk­ing throughout much of the vote.

The talks between Re­id, Mc­Con­nell, Schu­mer and Sen. Lamar Al­ex­an­der, R-Tenn., opened Sat­urday morn­ing, with Re­id de­scrib­ing the con­ver­sa­tions as “ex­tremely cor­di­al,” and pre­lim­in­ary.

Sen­at­ors also re­cog­nized that whatever the deal is it will need to clear the House, which has been un­able to of­fer le­gis­la­tion ac­cept­able to the Sen­ate and the White House. But some Sen­ate Demo­crats also said they are fed up with House Speak­er John Boehner.

“At this point, they have dealt them­selves out of this pro­cess,” Durbin said. “They can­not agree among them­selves and that makes it ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to take them ser­i­ously.”

Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans soun­ded op­tim­ist­ic Sat­urday that such a deal was with­in reach and also real­ized the House would have little time to act giv­en the Oct. 17 debt lim­it dead­line.

“Hope­fully we’re not wast­ing our time send­ing le­gis­la­tion that the House wouldn’t ac­cept,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.

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