Deadline forces D.C. scramble
WASHINGTON — With talks having stalled between the White House and House Republicans, a bipartisan group in the Senate is polishing a measure that would reopen the government and prevent a first-ever default on the country’s bills.
The negotiations in the Senate come as the chamber meets in a rare Saturday session to vote on a Democratic measure to lift the government’s borrowing cap through the end of next year. Republicans are poised to reject it amid talks among the group of rank-and-file senators — talks monitored with the full attention of Senate leaders.
The bipartisan group’s focus is on a proposal by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and others that would pair a six-month plan to keep the government open with an increase in the government’s borrowing limit through January.
House Republicans, meanwhile, are slated to meet this morning to get an update from their leaders as matters come to a head.
President Barack Obama on Friday privately turned away a House plan to link the reopening of the government — and a companion measure to temporarily increase the government’s borrowing cap — to concessions on the budget.
Publicly, top House Republicans said negotiations were on track. Obama called House Speaker John Boehner at midafternoon Friday, and Michael Steel, a spokesman for the leader of House Republicans, said, “They agreed that we should all keep talking.”
Privately, the channel between the White House and the House wasn’t bearing fruit, said aides on both sides. The aides required anonymity because the talks were private and they weren’t authorized to discuss them by name.
On Friday, a daily briefing by White House press secretary Jay Carney was delayed until after the stock market closed, and Carney said Obama “appreciates the constructive nature of the conversation and the proposal that House Republicans put forward.” Yet, the spokesman said, “He has some concerns with it.”
A House GOP aide and a White House official cast developments in a more pessimistic light, both requiring anonymity because of the secret nature of the talks. Among the options to be presented to a House GOP conference was a condition-free debt limit increase for just a few weeks and a continued closure of the government in hopes of concessions from Obama.
In the face of disastrous opinion polls, GOP leaders have signaled that they will make sure the debt limit is increased with minimal damage to the markets. But they’re still seeking concessions as a condition for reopening the government.
Obama met Senate Republicans on Friday and heard a pitch from Collins on raising the debt limit until the end of January, reopening the government, and trimming the health care law at its periphery. It would also strengthen income verification for people receiving subsidies through the health care law and set up a broader set of budget talks.
The Collins plan would delay for two years a medical-device tax that helps finance the health care law, and it would subject millions of individuals eligible for subsidies to purchase health insurance under the program to stronger income verification.
At the Capitol, Collins said Obama said the proposal “was constructive, but I don’t want to give the impression that he endorsed it.”