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Senate Leaders Remain at Odds Over Debt

Updated: 5:26 p.m.

With just a week left to raise the debt limit and avert a default, Democratic and Republican Senate leaders Tuesday afternoon showed little sign of compromise as they backed dueling plans to reduce the deficit and raise the debt ceiling.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he called on Senate Democrats to reach out to Republicans in an effort to win support for his proposal.

“It’s the best shot we have of avoiding economic crisis,” Reid said after meeting with the Democratic caucus. “That is why in our meeting today we … decided that members of our caucus would start reaching out to our Republican colleagues to encourage them to support our plan.”

Senate Democrats have 53 members in their caucus but will need 60 votes in order to clear procedural hurdles that stand in the way of passing the Reid bill. The Majority Leader said he was not sure when he would file a motion to limit debate or beat back any potential filibuster on the measure, but if he does so Tuesday, it would set up a vote Thursday.

The Reid plan would cut the deficit by $2.7 trillion over 10 years in exchange for an increase in the debt ceiling by $2.4 trillion, which would last through the 2012 elections.

The plan includes $1.2 trillion in discretionary spending cuts, $1 trillion in estimated savings from the drawdown of forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and $100 billion in mandatory savings not attached to entitlement programs.

Reid’s plan also would establish a 12-member joint Congressional committee tasked with making recommendations to Congress on further savings by the end of 2011.

“The Senate plan is a reasonable middle ground,” Reid said, adding that Republicans should back it because it does not include tax increases and the cuts exceed the increase in the debt limit — two things sought by Republicans.

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is backing a plan offered by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) that is set for a vote Wednesday.

The Boehner plan would initially cut spending by $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years and immediately raise the debt ceiling by $1 trillion. A joint committee would also be created with the mandate of identifying an additional $1.8 trillion in deficit reductions, which would include discretionary spending and entitlement programs. The committee’s recommendations would receive up-or-down votes in the House and Senate, and if they are enacted, the president would then have the authority to request an additional $1.6 trillion in debt ceiling authority early next year.

McConnell said that Republicans oppose the Reid measure because it counts $1 trillion from the drawdown of forces in Iraq and Afghanistan as savings, something that was already scheduled to happen. Republicans also want a provision that would trigger automatic cuts or something else that would force the joint committee to act.

“We believe the Reid proposal is not a serious effort to reduce the deficit and debt and should be defeated,” McConnell said, adding that it includes “highly suspect spending cut features.”

McConnell did not answer when asked whether his Republicans would unite to vote against the Reid plan.

“We think the Reid proposal goes in the wrong direction, and hopefully sometime soon we’ll have an opportunity to demonstrate that,” he said.

McConnell also brushed aside an announcement from the Club for Growth that it opposes the Boehner plan and that it would be a key vote in the Club for Growth’s 2011 Congressional Scorecard.

Grover Norquist’s “Americans for Tax Reform, which has been kind of the gold standard on the tax issue, endorsed the Boehner proposal yesterday,” McConnell said. “We believe it has broad support. We are doing everything we can to help our friends in the House pass it, and I am optimistic that they will be able to do that.”

Not all Republicans share McConnell’s confidence, including Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) who came out against the Boehner plan Monday. On Tuesday, House Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (Ohio) said of the plan, “I am confident, as of this morning, that there were not 218 Republicans in support.”

Reid said that Boehner’s plan is “dead on arrival in the Senate.”

“It’s written for the tea party, not the American people; Democrats will not vote for it,” he added.

The Obama administration also issued a veto threat against the Boehner plan Tuesday.

Nevertheless, Reid seemed to indicate that discussions between Democrats and Republicans appear to be ongoing, which could yield a middle ground.

“There are further discussions going on now; I am open to compromise,” Reid said, but he added that he would not accept a short-term extension because it would not reassure financial markets.

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