Senate talks on shutdown, debt stalled

Senate talks on shutdown, debt stalled
© Greg Nash

Senate Democrats are seeking to put more pressure on Republicans after a weekend of sporadic negotiations left leaders stalemated in talks to reopen the government and raise the debt limit.

Democrats have decided to ratchet up pressure on Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Overnight Finance: Lawmakers see shutdown odds rising | Trump calls for looser rules for bank loans | Consumer bureau moves to revise payday lending rule | Trump warns China on trade deficit MORE (Ky.) instead of accepting a deal that locks in automatic spending cuts known as sequestration and makes reforms to ObamaCare.

Democratic leaders have instead urged Republicans to support a clean bill to raise the debt limit and warned the stock market could plunge on Monday or Tuesday.

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDems search for winning playbook Dems face hard choice for State of the Union response The Memo: Immigration battle tests activists’ muscle MORE (D-Nev.) and McConnell did little direct negotiating on Sunday. The two leaders spoke by phone for about five or six minutes, according to a source familiar with the call.

Reid characterized the conversation as substantive and said he was optimistic about the chances for a deal.

“I have had a productive conversation with [the] Republican leader this afternoon. Our discussions were substantive and we’ll continue those discussions,” he said on the Senate floor.

“I’m optimistic about the prospects for a positive conclusion to the issues before this country today,” he added.

But Senate aides said they did not expect any deal to be announced Sunday evening.

“I’m not expecting anything the rest of the day,” said a GOP aide.

Senate Democrats took to the floor Sunday afternoon to warn of the economic consequences if Republicans do not agree to reopen the government and raise the debt limit immediately.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinMcCarthy: ‘No deadline on DACA’ Ex-Sheriff David Clarke: Trump only one who 'cares about black American citizens' DHS chief takes heat over Trump furor MORE (Ill.) said, “for the United States to default on its national debt for the first time in history would be catastrophic.” 

“Bankers across this country, Macy’s, business leaders, all have said 'don’t be playing with this fire,' ” said Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterEMILY’s List president: Franken did 'right thing for Minnesota' Reforming veterans health care for all generations of veterans Trump and Republicans deliver gift that keeps on giving for Americans MORE (D-Mont.).

Democrats argue they should not grant any concessions for Congress to fulfill what they view as its basic responsibilities.

Republicans expressed frustration and accused Reid of slowing down the negotiations. They say there is a substantial history of the president negotiating to periodically increase the nation’s borrowing authority.

“It’s time for Democrat leaders to take ‘yes’ for an answer,” McConnell said in a statement calling on the Democratic leadership to return to the negotiating table.

McConnell pressed Reid to accept a six-point plan sponsored by Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsDemocrats search for 51st net neutrality vote Overnight Tech: States sue FCC over net neutrality repeal | Senate Dems reach 50 votes on measure to override repeal | Dems press Apple on phone slowdowns, kids' health | New Android malware found Overnight Regulation: Dems claim 50 votes in Senate to block net neutrality repeal | Consumer bureau takes first step to revising payday lending rule | Trump wants to loosen rules on bank loans | Pentagon, FDA to speed up military drug approvals MORE (R-Maine) to fund the government for six months at an annualized rate of $986 billion, raise the debt limit, make modest reforms to ObamaCare, grant federal agencies more flexibility to manage their budgets and establish a bicameral budget conference.

Republicans say a group of six mostly centrist Democrats helped craft the proposal.

These lawmakers disputed McConnell’s claim that Democrats had dropped out of negotiations.

“We have been involved in productive, bipartisan discussions with Sen. Collins and other Republican senators, but we do not support the proposal in its current form,” they wrote in a joint statement. “There are negotiations but there is no agreement.”

Sens. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampPawlenty opts out of Senate run in Minnesota GOP's Cramer won't run for ND Senate seat GOP Rep. Cramer 'trending' toward ND Senate run MORE (D-N.D.), Mark PryorMark Lunsford PryorMedicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm MORE (D-Ark.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyDems search for winning playbook GOP anxious with Trump on trade Blue wave of 2018 stops in Indiana and Missouri MORE (D-Ind.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinMcConnell to Dems: Don't hold government 'hostage' over DACA Lawmakers see shutdown’s odds rising Senate campaign fundraising reports roll in MORE (D-W.Va.), Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharOvernight Cybersecurity: Bipartisan bill aims to deter election interference | Russian hackers target Senate | House Intel panel subpoenas Bannon | DHS giving 'active defense' cyber tools to private sector Pawlenty opts out of Senate run in Minnesota Nielsen says 'possible' Trump used vulgar language in meeting MORE (D-Minn.) and Angus KingAngus Stanley KingMcConnell to Dems: Don't hold government 'hostage' over DACA Overnight Regulation: Regulators kill Perry plan to help coal, nuke plants | Senate Dems to force net neutrality vote | Maine senators oppose offshore drilling plan | SEC halts trading in digital currency firm Maine senators oppose Trump's offshore drilling plans MORE (Maine), an independent who caucuses with Democrats, signed it.

Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerSenate campaign fundraising reports roll in Congress should take the lead on reworking a successful Iran deal North Korea tensions ease ahead of Winter Olympics MORE (R-Tenn.) told reporters in the Capitol Sunday afternoon that Democratic leaders bogged down talks by calling on Republicans to unwind the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration.

“They did [stall] over the last 24 hours but hopefully they’re going to get back on today,” he said.

Corker said negotiations faltered after the White House pushed Reid and Senate Democrats to attempt to lift the budget levels in any deal to reopen the government.

“It appeared the White House may have gotten a little involved with Senate leaders, Democratic leadership, to pull back away from the Budget Control Act,” he said.

Leaving the Capitol, Reid declined to say whether reforms to ObamaCare, such as delaying the medical device tax or setting up a verification process to prevent fraud in the insurance exchanges, was within the parameters of a potential deal.

“I’m not going to get into that,” he said.

When asked if he was more hopeful of a deal than at the beginning of the day, Reid replied, “sure.”

Durbin told reporters Saturday that the proposal to delay the medical device tax received a lukewarm reception in the Senate Democratic conference.

He said the American Hospital Association has already contacted the Senate leadership to see if other tax provisions in the Affordable Care Act are eligible for reform.

Republicans say Reid imperiled a possible deal when he pushed to raise funding levels above the caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act.

"Now they want a spending bill that increases spending and dramatically will increase the debt," Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulNSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Fix what we’ve got and make Medicare right this year Despite amnesty, DACA bill favors American wage-earners MORE (R-Ky.), a McConnell ally, said on CNN's "State of the Union."

"It's a non-starter," he said.

Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayCDC director to miss fourth hearing because of potential ethics issues Week ahead: Lawmakers near deal on children's health funding Ryan suggests room for bipartisanship on ObamaCare MORE (D-Wash.) told Collins on the Senate floor Saturday that her plan was unacceptable because it would lock in sequestration.

Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDemocrats will need to explain if they shut government down over illegal immigration White House: Trump remarks didn't derail shutdown talks Schumer defends Durbin after GOP senator questions account of Trump meeting MORE (D-N.Y.) acknowledged Sunday that spending levels were a sticking point in the talks.

“The dispute has been how to undo the sequester,” Sen. Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDemocrats will need to explain if they shut government down over illegal immigration White House: Trump remarks didn't derail shutdown talks Schumer defends Durbin after GOP senator questions account of Trump meeting MORE (D-N.Y.) said on "Face the Nation" on CBS on Sunday, explaining that Democrats want a mix of entitlement reforms and revenue increases.

Reid, however, denied that he had pressed Republicans to increase spending above the limits set by the 2011 budget law.

“Any talk about breaking the caps is not anything that came from us,” he said.

A Senate Democratic leadership aide said, “The suggestion that Democrats insist on breaking the budget caps is false and belied by the facts.

“Democrats all voted for the Senate-passed short-term CR at current sequester levels,” the aide added.

--Brendan Sasso contributed to this report, which was updated at 8:05 p.m.