Cautious optimism crept through the Capitol Friday as Senate Republicans expressed confidence that Congress can work out a deal with the White House to end the partial government shutdown and raise the nation’s debt ceiling.
At the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney said that there had been constructive talks but that President Barack Obama opposes tying budget negotiations to a six-week lifting of the debt ceiling, as House Republicans have proposed.
Such a deal “would put us right back where we are today in just six weeks, on the verge of Thanksgiving and the obviously important shopping season leading up to the holidays,” Carney said
Carney briefed reporters after the markets had closed and Obama’s meeting with Senate Republicans and his phone call with House Speaker John Boehner. He said that the president was encouraged by the “recognition” by “some Republicans” that the shutdown and a threat of default would be bad for the economy.
“Those realizations have helped create an environment where it at least looks like there’s a possibility of making some progress here,” Carney said.
Senate Republicans returned from their meeting at the White House saying that they see the outlines of a deal taking shape. However, they warned that the partial shutdown, into its 12th day Saturday, would likely last several days longer.
Most attention focused on the House of Representatives. In their phone call, Obama and Boehner agreed that all parties should keep talking, and Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said confidently that White House and congressional staffs were talking.
A key flashpoint appeared to be the length of any deal, with the White House saying it would accept a short- term compromise only with no strings attached. Some senators who attended the meeting described it as a wide-ranging discussion rather than a detailed negotiation.
“It wasn’t a negotiation, wasn’t a tit-for-tat. It wasn’t anything like that,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. “It was a fairly high-level, good conversation.”
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who briefed Obama on her plan to end the shutdown and the debt ceiling battle, called Friday’s session “constructive but inconclusive.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the meeting useful, adding, “There are currently a number of different discussions going on to get a solution on a bipartisan basis.”
Collins’ plan would provide government funding for six months; repeal a medical device tax that helps pay for Obama’s Affordable Care Act; and give federal agencies increased flexibility in dealing with automatic spending cuts, known as sequestration.
Collins said that Obama felt there were some elements of her plan that “we could work on,” but she added that “he certainly did not endorse it.”
The White House has opposed including the medical device tax in a debt ceiling deal, but Carney said Friday that the president was “willing to look at any proposal.” He noted that the White House believes if the provision was eliminated it would increase the deficit.
“That is something that would greatly concern him,” Carney said.
The Senate is expected to try on Saturday to take up a 14-month debt ceiling extension pushed by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Sixty votes are needed to cut off debate, and Democrats control 54 seats, so it’s unclear if Reid can get enough votes.
Meanwhile, over in the House, Republican lawmakers waited – and waited – for a clear path forward to emerge. No one was able to provide much detail. But with polls giving their party some of the worst ratings in its history, House Republicans leaders bent a bit Friday, as they appeared to agree to reopen the government as part of their deal.
House Republican leaders were mulling over a vote on their plan, and that could happen Saturday.
But there has been some resistance from the diehard conservatives who make up a sizable chunk of the 232-member Republican caucus. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., warned that the reported leadership offer was an “abandonment of party principles.”
“For any of my colleagues pushing such a deal,” Huelskamp said, “it would seriously jeopardize their future chances of becoming elected leadership in the House.”
Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, who has led the charge to repeal the Affordable Care Act, struck a defiant tone in an address to the Family Research Council’s Value Voters Summit, where he pledged to continue his efforts.
“None of us know what’s going to happen on this Obamacare fight right now,” Cruz said to applause. “In my view, the House of Representatives needs to keep doing what’s it’s been doing, which is standing strong.”