Senate Republicans Float Plan to Open Government, Lift Debt Limit

Senate Republicans emerged from a more than 90-minute meeting with President Obama on Friday more bullish than they have been in recent days on the chances to end the government shutdown, now in its eleventh day, and avoid breaching the nation's debt limit next week.

In the meeting, lawmakers said that Sen. Susan Collins, the moderate Republican from Maine, presented to Obama a plan that would lift the debt limit until the end of January and keep the government operating for six months. Lawmakers would then use that time to craft a broader fiscal agreement.

"He seems open to some of the suggestions that I made," Collins said.

Her package, as presented, would also include the rolling back of a tax on medical devices that helps fund the president's health care law. Obama did not embrace the package but numerous Republicans, including Collins, said the conversation was "constructive."

Other Republican senators have suggested different lengths of time for both the debt limit and government operations, but they broadly agreed that talks were on track toward a solution, perhaps for the first time since the crisis began.

"I think we're on a pretty good course right now – I do," said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., after the meeting.

Broadly speaking, multiple Republicans said they were encouraged the negotiations had shifted from dismantling the health care law to addressing fiscal matters.

"He feels very strongly about the Affordable Care Act," said Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb, "and he's not going to give on that."

Instead, Republicans hope to use the short-term debt-limit increase to negotiate a broader package of changes to entitlement programs.

Traps remain. Collins noted that Obama – who has declared definitively that he refuses to negotiate over reopening the government and lifting the debt limit – seemed reticent to package those items with anything else.

"It seems to be one of timing for him," Collins said. "The problem is if you don't put it all together in one plan I don't know that we will be able to get sufficient support to reopen government and to extend the debt limit. That's why I think it's better to combine them in one plan."

Not all Republicans were encouraged. "I'm not sure that it had any major material effect one way or the other," said Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.

And Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, was hardly positive. In a prepared statement, he said "what could have been a productive conversation was instead another predictable lecture from the president that did not lay out a new path forward."

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