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Senate Leaders Optimistic About Debt, Shutdown Deal After House Plan Collapses (Updated)

(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 10:27 p.m. | The Senate’s leaders appear to have a path forward on a legislative package to avert a default and reopen the government, but a lot of staff work remains before reaching the finish line.

“They’re still working out the details between Sens. McConnell and Reid, and we’re close,” Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin said.

“They had a basic agreement of what would be included. The staff is now working on a lot of — action going on right now on a lot of different items, but all pointing in the right direction at this moment,” the Illinois Democrat told reporters a few minutes later.

To that end, senior aides from the Budget and Appropriations committees, as well as others, were seen in the vicinity of Majority Leader Harry Reid’s second floor suite.

Senate aides said that work would continue through the night to try and hammer out technical details of how each piece would work.

The big picture hadn’t changed much since Monday, with the proposal including a continuing resolution to fund the government through Jan. 15, 2014. The debt limit would be put off until Feb. 7, 2014, with the Treasury Department maintaining its ability to use so-called “extraordinary measures” to extend the deadline.

In addition, a House-Senate budget conference would need to reach a conclusion by Dec. 13, though the exact form those instructions would take remained at issue. A Democratic aide explained that the possibility of a budgetary point of order might lead that to be a sidecar to the main agreement.

A delay in a reinsurance tax applied to group health plans had fallen off the table, but a requirement remained for verifying income eligibility for subsidies under the health care law.

The agreement would also include flexibility for departments and agencies implementing sequestration, though the exact language was still subject to negotiation, a senior GOP aide said.

Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had resumed talks on the deal to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling late Tuesday, after a day in which House Republicans failed to act on a proposal of their own.

Durbin said that talks had indeed been on pause while waiting to see if the House could act.

“There was definitely a suspension of negotiations until Speaker Boehner’s plight was obvious,” Durbin said.

McConnell spokesman Don Stewart released a statement saying, “Given tonight’s events, the Leaders have decided to work toward a solution that would reopen the government and prevent default. They are optimistic an agreement can be reached.”

Sen. Charles. E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said upon exiting Reid’s office Tuesday evening, “Making good progress. Things look a lot better than they did several hours ago.”

Indeed, House GOP leaders had hoped to pre-empt a tentative Senate deal that had emerged on Monday. But they ran into significant Republican resistance, even though their proposal would have added more provisions targeting Obamacare than the Senate proposal.

Even if the House had been able to pass a new plan to avert a default on the nation’s debts and end the government shutdown, Reid had said the plan was dead on arrival. At most, it would have provided Reid with an easy way to bring up his own plan.

Schumer closed the Senate floor and the chamber adjourned shortly after 10 p.m. Tuesday without any procedural maneuvers related to the agreement. The best case scenario would be to have a message arrive from the House, but Senate leaders do have other procedures available.

As for the House, Durbin demurred when asked about how much pressure the House might be under to accept the terms of the Reid-McConnell discussions.

“Boy after what’s gone on today — am I going to predict what’s going to happen in the House?” he quipped.

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