Intense talks under way between Senate Dems, GOP on debt deal

Senate Democratic and Republican leaders are having intense discussions to come up with a bipartisan solution for raising the debt ceiling.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters that he needs ideas from Republicans sometime Friday if Congress is to meet the Aug. 2 deadline.

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A Senate GOP leadership aide said the two sides have until early Sunday morning to reach an agreement.

The two sides are discussing trigger mechanisms that could be used to build bipartisan support. Such triggers would force Congress to carry out another round of deficit reduction before the 2012 election.

Reid has a plan that would cut more than $2 trillion and set up a select joint committee to assemble a package to further reduce the deficit. 

So far, no Republicans have supported it.

Republicans argue that Reid’s bill would cut much less because they contend the $1 trillion Democrats have counted in war savings amounts to a budget gimmick. They say President Obama was planning to draw down the troop levels in any case.

Republicans have endorsed a Democratic idea of setting up a special committee to find additional savings. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) included the idea in his proposal, which is likely to come up for a vote Friday afternoon.

But many lawmakers are skeptical that a special bipartisan panel, evenly split between six Democrats and six Republicans, could reach an agreement.

One possibility under consideration is to automatically enact spending cuts and tax increases — a penalty painful to both Democrats and Republicans — if the committee fails to act. 

Another fail-safe option would be to automatically implement the instructions of the Senate’s Gang of Six framework, which calls for steep spending cuts, reforms to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security and about $1 trillion in increased revenues. The group projects its plan would reduce the deficit by $3.7 trillion.

Many Republicans have endorsed the framework, including Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), the third-ranking member of the Senate GOP leadership, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas) and Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.).

Reid said Friday that he has suggested using the Gang of Six’s work as a trigger mechanism to build bipartisan support, but not a single Republican has said it would be enough to win his or her vote for a Senate plan to raise the debt limit.

“We considered that. The problem to this point is that we have not had a single Republican come forward and say they’d be willing to do something like that,” Reid said. “As I said, I’m anxious to talk to people about how we should move forward. I’ve invited the Republicans to call me, come and see me.”

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said trigger mechanisms have become a focus of private negotiations.

“That’s what it’s all about, whether it’s the debt ceiling or balanced-budget amendments — the question is, how do you guarantee at the end of the period the joint committee is meeting that something happens,” said Durbin. “The only way to do it and be sure that it works is to make sure there is adequate pain on both sides of the aisle.”

“The description of the triggers, I think if we’re having a trigger, is going to be part of the endgame negotiations,” Durbin said.

Reid said he is also still considering the last-resort fall-back plan Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) introduced earlier this month.

McConnell’s plan would give Obama authority to request a $2.5 trillion increase of the debt limit in three tranches, which would be subject to congressional resolutions of disapproval. The plan would give Obama nearly sole authority to raise the debt limit because it would require two-thirds votes in both chambers to override his veto of a disapproval resolution.

“... [T]hat’s certainly one of things I’m looking at, but I want to give the Republicans an opportunity to see how they feel my bill should be changed,” Reid said.

But Reid said time is fast running out for McConnell to suggest changes to the Senate Democratic plan to raise the debt limit.

“We need him to come today. I need something now,” he said.