Senate leaders appeared closer to a deal Monday to reopen a partially-closed federal government and keep the nation from defaulting on its financial obligations on Thursday.
The pace of the talks between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., were so intense and ever-changing that the White House postponed a 3 p.m. meeting between congressional leaders and President Barack Obama.
“There has been some progress on the Senate side with Republicans recognizing it’s not tenable, it’s not smart, it’s not good for the American people to let America default,” Obama said during an impromptu stop at Martha’s Table, where federal employees who are on furlough were volunteering to feed the needy. “There’s been some progress in recognizing that we’re not going to be able to completely bridge the differences between the parties all at once.”
The parameters of the deal were a fast-moving target Monday afternoon. According to some Senate aides, the deal would fund the federal government until Jan. 15 and raise the debt limit until mid-February.
The dual move would be amenable to congressional Democrats and the White House because the separate deadline dates would politically de-link funding the government and dealing with the debt limit.
In addition, lawmakers would agree to a budget conference that would work on long-term government funding, deal with the automatic domestic and defense cuts known as sequestration, and other fiscal matters, aides said.
It was unclear Monday afternoon about whether the deal would include delaying implementation of a 2.3 percent tax on medical devices. There’s bipartisan support to delay or repeal the tax. However, the White House may object because the tax was created to help pay for the Affordable Care Act.
Republicans led by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Me., are pushing for a system that would tighten the system of verifying incomes before people could receive subsidies under the health care law.
The House of Representatives has approved a measure barring any benefits to lower income people until the administration has a system is firmly in place to verify recipient income. But the administration has resisted, saying a method is already ready and the House would create standards that were not specific enough.
It was unclear Monday afternoon how the still-brewing deal would be received by Republicans in the House. Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner said “If the Senate comes to an agreement, we will review it with our members.”
Obama warned that if Congress doesn’t make progress this week, “we stand a good chance of defaulting and defaulting could have a potentially devastating effect on our country.”
Despite the cancellation of the White House meeting, Senate Democrats and Republicans expressed optimism that they were on track in formulating a deal to end the partial shutdown, which started Oct. 1, and clear the way for a congressional vote to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.
In the Senate, the mood was cautiously upbeat Monday.
“Instructive good faith negotiations continue between the Republican leader and me,” said Reid. “I’m very optimistic that we will reach an agreement that’s reasonable in nature this week to reopen the government, pay the nation’s bills and begin long-term negotiations to continue to put our country on sound fiscal footing.”
McConnell echoed Reid’s sentiments.
“We have had an opportunity over the last couple of days to have some very constructive exchanges of views about how to move forward,” McConnell said. “Those discussions continue, and I share his optimism that we’re going to get a result that will be acceptable to both sides.”