By Peter Schroeder and Bernie Becker - 10/11/13 09:57 PM EDT
House and Senate Republicans have found a new obstacle in the government shutdown and debt-limit fights: each other.
GOP lawmakers from both chambers are expressing confusion and frustration with how their colleagues across the Capitol are approaching talks with the White House, with many thinking their respective camp should be in the lead.
"There's plates spinning everywhere. Everybody's now trying to work on this," said Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.), a member of House GOP leadership. "It's just confusing to try to figure out what's the deal that's actually getting traction."
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is crafting a Senate GOP plan to raise the $16.7 trillion borrowing cap and bring an end to the government shutdown. Her plan would repeal the medical device tax and give federal agencies more flexibility to handle sequester cuts.
Collins presented that plan to the president Friday, and he did not immediately rule it out.
The meeting also showed that Senate Republicans are not in the loop on what the House is negotiating, as they spent much of the time pressing Obama for details about the House’s plan.
House Republicans have put forward a plan to boost the debt limit but are demanding fiscal negotiations with the president on ending the shutdown. The precise details of the plan are under wraps.
The uncertainty of the talks is frustrating Senate Republicans, who want the crisis resolved as soon as possible.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said he thought Senate Republicans should cut a deal with the White House, since House Republicans did not have a concrete plan to end the shutdown and stop the bleeding in the party’s poll numbers.
“I don’t know in what world we are faring well under the shutdown, either in terms of policy or politics,” he said.
House Republicans are well aware of the risk that they’ll get rolled by the Senate.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) warned his House GOP colleagues Thursday that they must act first on a plan to raise the debt limit and reopen government before the Senate moves any compromise deal.
Boehner said House Republicans “have to strike first because otherwise the Senate will jam us," according to Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.).
House Republicans learned that lesson the hard way in late 2011 when the Senate passed a temporary payroll tax holiday and left town, forcing the House to ultimately accept it.
Republicans in both the House and Senate insist the House needs to be in the lead this time, especially since there will be no compromise signed into law if House Republicans do not back it.
"I think the bottom line is, let's see where the discussion goes between the White House and House leadership, because that's going to really determine the pathway in the long run," said Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.).
"Given divided government … whatever is proffered, if it can't pass the House, it's not going to sell," said Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.).
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said the House has the right idea with its plan.
"I see the House is much more serious about putting together a package to open up the entire government and make changes to ObamaCare to lessen the pain," Graham said.
But other Senate Republicans expressed confusion more than anything else about the House approach, which saw multiple tweaked offers come over the last several days, and scant details about what they entailed.
Asked if she backed the House plan, Sen. Kelly Ayotte said she wasn't exactly sure what it was.
"I'm not sure what their plan is. I would need to know what it is," she said.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Friday he also was befuddled by the House GOP's strategy.
In the final stretches of past battles with the White House, Senate Republicans, led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have taken a dominant role in the crafting an agreement.
But facing a tough reelection race, McConnell has adopted a much less visible role this time around, leading to a scramble of sorts to figure out who picks up that mantle.
A reliable ally of GOP leadership, Boustany noted that congressional Republicans were "definitely more effective" when the House and Senate were on the same page.
"I think that seems to be a problem lately," Boustany said.
Lankford agreed, saying Republicans would undoubtedly have more leverage if they presented a united front.
"You know what, that would be great. Wouldn't it?" Lankford told reporters. "But that's not where we're at."
But Republicans offered optimism that at some point, cooler heads would prevail, and they would meet up on a common path.
"What you want to do is sync up Senate Republicans and House Republicans, and Democrats. I think we’re on our way now,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.).
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the Senate Republican whip, was seen entering Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) office late Friday.
“Just call me Solomon,” he told reporters as he entered.
— Russell Berman and Molly K. Hooper contributed.