With the administration’s deadline for default roughly a day away, negotiations shifted again to the Senate late Wednesday, with Democratic and Republican leaders optimistic that a deal could be announced soon.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell restarted talks that had stalled for much of Tuesday soon after it became clear that the House’s attempt to pass legislation had failed. And a deal, which leaders had said was close to the finish line before Tuesday’s detour, appeared to coalesce quickly.
The agreement, which had yet to be announced by the leaders as of Tuesday night, would extend the debt limit until Feb. 7, and include a continuing resolution until Jan. 15, according to a source familiar with the negotiations. The deal would also include a Dec. 15 deadline for a budget conference report, as well as an antifraud provision designed to verify income for those who receive subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, the source said.
The next procedural steps in the Senate are still murky. Senators and aides say there was concern that the agreement could be held up—although not completely blocked, assuming Reid and McConnell instruct senators not to filibuster—because of the Senate’s rules requiring up to 30 hours before a vote.
“There are ways for members of the Senate to delay even a bipartisan agreement if they wish,” said Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill. “I hope they don’t.”
Asked whether Reid would file for cloture Tuesday night on a Senate bill, Durbin said the details were still being worked out with McConnell.
“Basically in order to move this quickly [Wednesday] or as soon thereafter as possible, we need the cooperation of members,” Durbin said. “If they want to drag their feet, use every objection they can, this could take a few days.”
The Treasury Department set Oct. 17—Thursday—as a deadline for default, and Secretary Jacob Lew is to meet with President Obama on Wednesday.
After arching their backs at the notion that House Speaker John Boehner would propose a GOP alternative to the Reid-McConnell deal, Senate Democratic leaders seemed reassured that the bipartisan talks were back on track.
“Things look a lot better than they did several hours ago,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who declined to elaborate.
Durbin would not confirm that a deal had been inked, but sounded optimistic.
“There was definitely a suspension of negotiations until Speaker Boehner’s plight was obvious,” he said. “They’re still working on the details between Senators McConnell and Reid. We’re making good progress.”
One sign of what’s at stake came when the credit-rating agency Fitch put the United States’ AAA credit rating under review on Tuesday. In a statement, the agency said that “although Fitch continues to believe that the debt ceiling will be raised soon, the political brinkmanship and reduced financing flexibility could increase the risk of a U.S. default.”
Of course, lawmakers have had months to avert the current crisis. But as illustrated yet again Tuesday, olive branches are easily snapped in this Congress, and partisanship and political pressure are highly valued. The implosion on Tuesday of the House plan to put legislation to a vote was a very public example.
That plan, as initially laid out to rank-and-file members in a closed-door meeting, seemed to build on the Senate framework, with the addition of items that the House Republicans have been seeking, such as a two-year delay of a medical-device tax and language to ban government health care subsidies for members of Congress and the president’s Cabinet.
But it became clearer throughout the day that the plan was simply inadequate for some conservatives. By early evening, the death knell may have come in the form of an announcement by the influential conservative group Heritage Action, which opposed the bill and announced that it would be included as a key vote on the group’s legislative scorecard.
It was soon after that House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, announced that a hearing to set procedures for a floor vote Tuesday night was postponed. Sessions and other House GOP leaders retreated to Boehner’s office. Shortly before 7 p.m., they emerged to say there would not be any House votes Tuesday night.
Sessions did not say what, exactly, the House planned to do on Wednesday beyond having more “discussion.” But he did remark, “We’re waiting for the Senate to get its work done.”