Senate Dems: Don’t assume clean debt bill can pass if shutdown continues

Senate Democrats could reject a House GOP proposal to extend the nation’s debt ceiling by a few weeks, saying any short-term debt-limit increase should also reopen the government.

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A senior Senate Democratic aide said “don’t assume” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will accept the six-week debt-limit extension House Republicans are coalescing around.

Reid again called on Republicans to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling and pledged Democrats would then negotiate with them.

“We’ll have a conversation with them about anything. Open the government, let us pay our bills,” he said Thursday morning on the Senate floor.

Even if House Republicans pass a clean short-term debt-limit increase, one without spending cuts attached, Senate Democrats might balk if it leaves important federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency mostly shuttered.

Reid said he would proceed with his plan to push the expiration of the debt limit until Dec. 31, 2014. He has scheduled a Saturday vote on a motion to proceed to the 14-month debt-limit extension. It would, in effect, allow the administration to increase its borrowing authority by an estimated $1.1 trillion.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) panned the proposal.

“The majority leader introduced legislation this week to allow another trillion dollars to be added to the debt with no strings attached. None,” he said. “That’s the majority leader’s plan: just keep raising the credit card limit, and let someone else deal with it later on.”

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) said House Republicans should not try to increase the debt limit without also opening the government. 

"We think the responsible thing is to take care of both,” he said.

When asked if Senate Democrats could accept a House GOP plan that would only raise the debt ceiling for a few weeks, Durbin said, “I hope we never face this political Sophie’s choice.”

—This report was updated at 11:13 a.m.