Senators Negotiate on Several Fronts as Reid and McConnell Step Up (Updated)

Collins talks to reporters on Friday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Collins talks to reporters on Friday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted October 12, 2013 at 12:11pm

Updated 12:22 p.m. | A bipartisan group of senators led by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, met Saturday morning to discuss an emerging framework to raise the debt limit and re-open the government, according to multiple sources familiar with the meeting.

But Collins and her group may be overshadowed by negotiations between Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Several GOP senators said after a caucus meeting Saturday morning that McConnell and Reid are in talks to find an acceptable solution before the Oct. 17 debt limit deadline.

“It’s still very early,” said one aide familiar with the talks.

Senate Democratic aides indicated that there was no appetite yet for the Collins plan as drafted. But as members and aides on both sides struggle to find a resolution, any plan on the table could gain traction — especially if it has strong backing across caucuses.

“I think it’s going to come down to Sen. Reid and Sen. McConnell working together over the weekend, making a recommendation to both caucuses,” Sen. Lamar Alexander said.

“The House seems to be having a hard time. The president’s not helping much,” the Tennessee Republican added. “Sen. Reid and Sen. McConnell are the adults in the room and hopefully they’ll be able to make a recommendation.”

He continued, “I think they’re both very experienced, very able and have a sense of the institution. It’s harder than it looks. It’s like everyone enjoys watching these NFL quarterbacks and wonders why they didn’t throw it one place or the other. That’s — that’s harder than it looks. This is harder than it looks too.”

House Republicans have already indicated they will treat any Senate deal extremely skeptically.

Though all members of the Collins group have not been confirmed, sources said Collins invited some of those senators to join her at a 12:45 p.m. news conference Saturday. Multiple sources said the group includes Collins’ in-state colleague, independent Sen. Angus King, Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III. As CQ Roll Call previously reported, Senate Republicans are growing anxious waiting for the House to act and several are involved in the Collins effort, including Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Sen. Mark S. Kirk is also a member of the group, the Illinois Republican confirmed.

Senate Democrats are scheduled to have a caucus meeting after a procedural vote at noon on Reid’s clean one-year debt limit suspension, which failed to overcome a GOP-led filibuster by a vote of 53-45. Sixty votes were needed. Senate Republicans met before the vote.

Senators of both parties have decided the chamber needs to move forward with a plan instead of just waiting on the House. Reid said of House Republicans on the floor Saturday, “It’s over with. They’re done. They’re not talking anymore.” And McConnell told the Lexington Herald-Leader that he is ready to negotiate and end the standoff that has shuttered the government for nearly two weeks.