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Democrats Strike Upbeat Tone, but Leave Question of House to GOP

Senate Democratic leaders (CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Senate Democratic leaders (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

It seems senators are now waiting to see whether Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell can reprise the role of Dudley Do-Right.

That’s the logical extension of the metaphor used Saturday afternoon by Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin.

“The American damsel is tied to the tracks, and the engine is bearing down. The question is whether or not Congress at the last minute will come to the rescue and save this country,” the Illinois Democrat said at a news conference with other Democratic leaders.

Led by Reid, the Democratic leaders emerged from a Saturday afternoon party caucus again stressing unity, calling on Republicans to take steps to reopen the federal government.

But it was clear that they had a glimmer of hope that talks including four longtime negotiators could prove fruitful.

The Nevada Democrat confirmed that he met Saturday morning with his Republican counterpart McConnell of Kentucky, along with Sens. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.

Schumer and Alexander have worked together in the past with the leaders on the floor to defuse the Senate’s internal ticking time bomb known as the “nuclear option” to change the rules with simple majority votes.

Schumer said he hoped a deal could be reached, thinking the Senate now has to take the lead given that the House GOP hasn’t been able to reach an agreement with the White House.

“The sooner the better … the markets are whimsical I guess, and who knows? The sooner the better, that’s all you can play,” Schumer said.

When Reid was asked whether he was concerned about making sure an agreement could pass the House, he kicked that question to the Senate Republicans.

“I don’t think that’s my responsibility. I think it’s Sen. McConnell’s,” Reid said.

Schumer said after the news conference that he wasn’t concerned the rejection of a plan floated by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, carried political risk as the shutdown continues and the debt limit endgame approaches.

“We are not overplaying our hand. We are open to discussion in every way, and I think our Republican colleagues are moving in our direction,” Schumer said. “It’s the seriousness of the issue that’s troubling … the trend is better than it has been, but we don’t have much time.”

An administration official told CQ Roll Call that the Collins plan was constructive but they had concerns about both the funding levels and the changes it would make to the Affordable Care Act.

In the end, this might be like so many other deals around the Senate, hashed out by a few old-fashioned legislators (perhaps to the chagrin of the House Republicans).

“Sen. McConnell and I have been in this body a long time, we’ve done things for a long time together. I know him. He knows me,” Reid said. “We have fond memories of our days together when others could take the responsibility we now have to take, but we did some good things together.”

“Like and pass are … two different words here,” Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri said when asked whether the Senate leaders could reach a deal that the House might “like.”

“My belief would be that a bill that passes the Senate with a significant number of Republican votes that the president would sign is a bill that the speaker would have to give every consideration to trying to take up, and hopefully it wouldn’t be a bill that didn’t have some real wins in it for conservatives and Republicans,” added Blunt, a former House majority whip.

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