YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Government shutdown: Focus in budget talks turns to Senate

October 12, 2013|By Brian Bennett and Michael A. Memoli

WASHINGTON – For the first time since a political impasse shut down the government, the Senate’s top Republican and Democrat have started negotiations to try to resolve the stalemate.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) met with key allies in Reid’s office for an hour Saturday morning to consider a new negotiating path to reopen the government and end the threat of a possible default next week.

Though the two had spoken on the phone and on the Senate floor, it was the first time they sat down together since the government shutdown began 12 days ago.

The get-together follows a move by McConnell to begin seeking a resolution, with House Republicans unable to enter into substantive negotiations with the White House. McConnell earlier this week tapped Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) to start talks with Senate Democratic leaders, which led to days of conversations with Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), the third-ranking Democrat.

Until that point McConnell, who has been at the center of major compromises in the past, had maintained a low profile in the current budget fight. He faces a potentially difficult reelection campaign in 2014, with a challenge from the right in the primary and from a well-funded Democrat in the fall.

“The conversation was extremely cordial but very preliminary – nothing conclusive,” Reid told reporters Saturday after a closed-door meeting of the Democratic caucus

"I believe Sen. McConnell showed good will," Schumer, who was also in the meeting with McConnell and Alexander, told reporters. "I believe he wants to come to a solution."

On Saturday afternoon, Senate Democratic leaders met with President Obama in the Oval Office.

There is real urgency, particularly among senators, to pass legislation to raise the nation’s borrowing limit by Thursday, when the Treasury Department said it will run out of authority to borrow money and would run the risk of defaulting on the nation’s debt. Senate aides said that while a deal could come together quickly, the conversations between party leaders were still tentative. Earlier Saturday, the Senate defeated a Democratic proposal to suspend the nation’s debt limit through next year.

“The real conversation that matters now is the one that’s taking place between McConnell and Reid,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said after attending a strategy session during which Republican senators were briefed on the talks.

A proposal put forward by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) to temporarily raise the debt limit and reopen the government in exchange for delaying the medical-device tax in the Affordable Care Act and other concessions seemed to be falling to the wayside. Democrats say that they don't consider reopening the government and raising the debt ceiling as concessions by the GOP in a negotiation.

Walking out of the meeting with her fellow Republican senators, Collins said "elements" of her plan would be in the final compromise. But she hinted that her overtures were not going over well with House Republicans, who would have to vote on any final plan cooked up in the Senate.

"I think we are a long ways from them. The House strategy hasn't worked, so let's see what does," Collins said.

The House adjourned Saturday morning and was not scheduled to return until Monday afternoon. House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) told Republicans that Obama had broken off talks that began only days earlier, and that it was now up to the Senate Republicans to hold firm.

House Republicans expressed concern that the president was seeking a better deal from the Senate Republicans, with fewer concessions than they had been willing to offer.

A similar scenario played out at the start of the year to resolve the so-called “fiscal cliff,” when a deal worked out between McConnell and Vice President Joe Biden won overwhelming approval in the Senate and forced House leaders to allow a vote that passed with only limited Republican support.

Twitter: @ByBrianBennett

Twitter: @mikememoli

Los Angeles Times Articles