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Senate Kills Debt Bill, Bipartisan Talks on Hold

Updated: 11:02 p.m.

The Senate voted 59-41 to kill Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) debt limit package Friday night, and Majority Leader Harry Reid moved forward with a new version of his own bill after efforts to reach a bipartisan deal failed.

The Nevada Democrat’s latest bill adopts Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Plan B language to let President Barack Obama raise the debt ceiling in stages and effectively take the threat of default off the table until 2013. Reid said he was prepared to compromise further — he said earlier Friday that he is willing to bring up a constitutional balanced budget amendment for a vote, for example — but that he had no one to negotiate with.

McConnell (R-Ky.) refused to negotiate all day before the House vote to pass Boehner’s bill, Reid said, and again refused in a phone call after the House voted.

“If they don’t like it, what do they want as an alternative?” Reid asked.

Democrats say two pieces of the Boehner bill — the potential for another default crisis in six months and a requirement for passage of a balanced budget amendment — are nonstarters.

Reid’s bill mirrors many other aspects of Boehner’s measure and would cut the deficit by about $2.2 trillion, according to an earlier estimate by the Congressional Budget Office.

Democrats said they were willing to look at adding triggers to ensure future deficit reduction if a bipartisan deficit reduction committee that is included in both bills fails to produce a result. However, Reid said Republicans have repeatedly refused to compromise on the issue.

“We’ve got a closet full of triggers,” he said. But, he added, “I came to the conclusion that we are negotiating with ourselves. The Republicans will not agree to any triggers that have any revenues in it.”

And Reid noted that Democrats have drawn a line in the sand against any cuts to entitlement programs without revenue.

“No one in three weeks has found a way to solve the trigger dilemma,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

A cloture vote on Reid’s bill is expected around 1 a.m. Sunday, after Reid rejected an unusual offer from McConnell to hold a vote on the Reid plan Friday night as well.

McConnell made the offer on the Senate floor, saying, “Every single member of my Conference would be happy to move that vote up.”

Reid countered that he would be happy to do so if McConnell would agree to let simple majority rule.

McConnell’s offer was essentially to short-circuit the time-consuming procedure needed to overcome an attempted filibuster, or limit debate on a measure. Sixty votes are needed to invoke cloture, as the process is known, and Reid doesn’t yet appear to have the votes.

McConnell objected to allowing a simple 51-vote margin to carry an issue of this magnitude, while Reid accused the Republican of filibustering the matter with the nation’s creditworthiness at stake.

“If the House can vote on something on a simple majority, so can we,” Reid said.

House Republicans meanwhile plan to bring up and defeat an earlier version of Reid’s bill Saturday in an attempt to force him to compromise. Reid’s gambit with the House bill was intended to show Republicans that their plan would not pass muster in the Senate.

Democrats hoped that with the House bill defeated in the Senate, Boehner and McConnell would re-engage with Democrats in talks on a package that can end the partisan stalemate before Aug. 2.

But Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said the burden is on Reid.

“For the second time, the House has passed a reasonable, common-sense plan to raise the debt limit and cut spending and, for the second time, Sen. Reid has tabled it,” Steel said. “The responsibility to end this crisis is now entirely in the hands of Sen. Reid and President Obama.”

But other GOP aides said it now appears likely that Boehner will end up being forced to accept a deal which both the Senate and the White House can agree to. Doing so will mean losing significant parts of his own Conference, and will require Boehner to work with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to cobble together enough Democrats and moderate Republicans to pass it in the House.

As of late Friday night, no bipartisan talks were scheduled to resolve the impasse.

John Stanton and Humberto Sanchez contributed to this report.

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