Grim-Faced Optimism as Fiscal Talks Continue

“We made an offer, we’re negotiating the rest, we decided to keep talking,” said House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan.

Rep. Paul Ryan on December 1, 2010.
National Journal
Billy House and Michael Catalini
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Billy House Michael Catalini
Oct. 10, 2013, 4:55 p.m.

A break­through deal re­mained elu­sive, but Re­pub­lic­an and Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors held bi­par­tis­an talks over re­open­ing gov­ern­ment and ex­tend­ing the debt lim­it, as House Re­pub­lic­ans and the White House car­ried dis­cus­sions late in­to the night on Thursday.

The frame­work of a po­ten­tial agree­ment re­mains murky. But House Re­pub­lic­ans said they would con­tin­ue to talk with Pres­id­ent Obama overnight, even after he re­jec­ted the latest House pro­pos­al.

“We made an of­fer, we’re ne­go­ti­at­ing the rest, we de­cided to keep talk­ing,” said House Budget Com­mit­tee Chair­man Paul Ry­an, R-Wis.

In­cluded in those dis­cus­sions, said House Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee Chair­man Har­old Ro­gers, R-Ky., were ef­forts “to find the con­di­tions of a [spend­ing bill] to end the gov­ern­ment shut­down.” What kind of timetable, if any, was un­clear. But Rep. Lynn Jen­kins, R-Kan., the vice chair of the House GOP con­fer­ence, said Thursday night on CN­BC that House Re­pub­lic­ans hoped to have gov­ern­ment opened by Monday.

While the White House said in a state­ment there was no break­through, it char­ac­ter­ized the talks as help­ful. “The Pres­id­ent looks for­ward to mak­ing con­tin­ued pro­gress with mem­bers on both sides of the aisle,” the state­ment read.

Even so, op­tim­ism from both sides seemed un­der­mined by the grim faces of many of the GOP law­makers upon their re­turn to the Cap­it­ol. And des­pite their op­tim­ism earli­er in the day, House Re­pub­lic­ans scrapped the sched­uled un­veil­ing of a meas­ure they had billed Thursday morn­ing as a com­prom­ise, which would ex­tend the na­tion’s debt ceil­ing for six weeks to avert po­ten­tial de­fault.

That bill had been de­scribed by Re­pub­lic­ans as a “clean” debt-lim­it in­crease that does not ask for any spe­cif­ic policy con­ces­sions in re­turn — a strategy not all House con­ser­vat­ives said they agreed with. More in­form­ally, in re­turn for passing the bill, Re­pub­lic­ans were seek­ing a verbal agree­ment from Obama to ap­point budget con­fer­ees for a work­ing group that will ne­go­ti­ate long-term fisc­al is­sues dur­ing that six-week peri­od. Some Re­pub­lic­ans said the plan would also have some­how led to a ban — po­ten­tially a per­man­ent one — on the Treas­ury De­part­ment us­ing so-called ex­traordin­ary meas­ures to avoid de­fault.

In the Sen­ate, Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id, D-Nev., is pre­par­ing a clean debt-lim­it ex­ten­sion for a pro­ced­ur­al vote as early as Sat­urday — “un­less an agree­ment is reached,” said Re­id spokes­man Adam Jentleson — and sen­at­ors say they’ve been meet­ing be­hind closed doors to ham­mer out a pos­sible deal.

“The plan is to try and reach an agree­ment so that we can re­solve both of these is­sues,” Sen. John Mc­Cain, R-Ar­iz., said. “There’s all kinds of plans back and forth.”

Demo­crat­ic aides ac­know­ledge that dis­cus­sions are tak­ing place, but would not com­ment on de­tails of the con­ver­sa­tions. Asked wheth­er he would ne­go­ti­ate be­fore the gov­ern­ment would open, Re­id said, “Not go­ing to hap­pen.”

Among the plans be­ing dis­cussed is a pro­pos­al from Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who’s call­ing for a re­peal of the med­ic­al-device tax and for al­low­ing agen­cies lee­way in ad­min­is­ter­ing se­quest­ra­tion cuts. A Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­an aide said this plan, which would re­open gov­ern­ment, could also roll in­to a lar­ger deal to ex­tend the debt ceil­ing.

Asked what was un­der con­sid­er­a­tion, Sen­ate Minor­ity Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, poin­ted to a deal that would in­clude both re­open­ing gov­ern­ment and the debt lim­it. He re­jec­ted any deal that would raise taxes and avoided de­tails, but said the con­fer­ence is “look­ing for some oth­er way” to bridge the im­passe.

“There’s a lot of really good ideas, and we’re run­ning out of road to kick the can down,” he said. “I think at some point here soon, there’s gonna have to be some co­ales­cing around some ideas and there are a lot of good ideas, and that’s one,” Cornyn said, re­fer­ring to Collins’s plan.

Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans held back cri­ti­cism of the House, but said they were ready to try to re­solve the is­sue.

“All of us on this side of the build­ing don’t want to make any kind of ed­it­or­i­al com­ments about what the House is or isn’t do­ing be­cause we know it’s dif­fi­cult there right now to reach con­sensus,” said Sen. Bob Cork­er, R-Tenn. “I think the House needs to do what it can. On the oth­er hand, I think there’s a rising con­sensus that Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans need to take some steps to move our coun­try in a pos­it­ive way.”

Cork­er also said that he ex­pects a res­ol­u­tion “very soon,” but would not elab­or­ate.

Un­able to reach any break­through deal to ex­tend the na­tion’s debt ceil­ing and re­open gov­ern­ment, House Re­pub­lic­ans still sought to un­der­score that the talks with Obama and oth­er of­fi­cials were a pos­it­ive step for­ward and that they are on­go­ing.

Some say the House Re­pub­lic­an pro­pos­al rep­res­ents a strategy floated by Ry­an to al­low the tem­por­ary ex­ten­sion of the bor­row­ing lim­it, and thus al­low more time for broad­er de­fi­cit-re­duc­tion talks in areas such as en­ti­tle­ment pro­grams, taxes, and spend­ing. But many House con­ser­vat­ives say they re­main un­will­ing to re­start fund­ing and re­open gov­ern­ment without con­ces­sions.

There were also signs from Demo­crats on Cap­it­ol Hill that what Re­pub­lic­ans were of­fer­ing was not ne­ces­sar­ily enough. Among the com­plaints was an ab­sence of any House Re­pub­lic­an plans to also re­start fund­ing and re­open gov­ern­ment, which is now in its second week of a shut­down.

A couple of hours be­fore the meet­ing between Obama and Re­pub­lic­ans, House Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi, D-Cal­if., out­right re­fused to say wheth­er she and her House Demo­crat­ic Caucus would sup­port or op­pose the Re­pub­lic­an of­fer. But she and Rep Chris Van Hol­len, D-Md., the top Demo­crat on the Budget Com­mit­tee, both made it clear they were not thrilled.

Both said they’d prefer to see an ex­ten­sion for more than six weeks. And they — like some of their Sen­ate coun­ter­parts — fur­ther ques­tioned the status of House Re­pub­lic­an plans to re­open the gov­ern­ment.

“Why would you gen­er­ate an in­creas­ing and con­tinu­ing un­cer­tainty in the eco­nomy by say­ing the United States of Amer­ica is only go­ing to pay its bills on time for six weeks?” Van Hol­len asked. “Why wouldn’t you want to make sure you send a sig­nal of cer­tainty and say the United States will pay its bill on time for at least a year?”

Of the lack of a plan to re­open gov­ern­ment, Pelosi asked, “What is their think­ing? Why would they keep gov­ern­ment closed dur­ing that time?”

Van Hol­len ad­ded: “There’s ab­so­lutely no ex­cuse for one more day of a gov­ern­ment shut­down.”

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