Senate leaders near deal to end shutdown, raise debt limit

Senate leaders near deal to end shutdown, raise debt limit
© Greg Nash

An emerging deal to reopen the government and raise the nation's debt ceiling until February gathered political momentum Monday evening after Senate Republicans signaled they would likely support it.

Lawmakers and aides said the legislation would fund the government until Jan. 15 and extend the nation’s borrowing authority until Feb. 7 but leave ObamaCare largely untouched.

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It would also establish a Senate-House budget committee to craft a replacement for the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration, which would have to report its work product to Congress by Dec. 13.

Senate Republicans, who have seen their party’s approval rating plummet during the two weeks of a government shutdown, are eager to accept a deal as long as it keeps spending levels consistent with the 2011 Budget Control Act in place.

“Most everybody that’s on our side of the aisle in the United States Senate feels the $987 [billion spending level] is the thing that can’t be moved,” Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGOP senators eager for Romney to join them Five hurdles to a big DACA and border deal Grand jury indicts Maryland executive in Uranium One deal: report MORE (R-Iowa) said in reference to prolonging current spending levels.

The big question is whether a package to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling can pass muster in the House. 


Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerDems face hard choice for State of the Union response Even some conservatives seem open to return to earmarks Overnight Finance: Trump, lawmakers take key step to immigration deal | Trump urges Congress to bring back earmarks | Tax law poised to create windfall for states | Trump to attend Davos | Dimon walks back bitcoin criticism MORE (R-Ohio) was briefed on the deal Monday, and members of his conference were taking a wait and see attitude.

“When we see it, we'll know what it is. Do you know what it is yet?” Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), chairman of the House Rules Committee, asked reporters as he left BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerDems face hard choice for State of the Union response Even some conservatives seem open to return to earmarks Overnight Finance: Trump, lawmakers take key step to immigration deal | Trump urges Congress to bring back earmarks | Tax law poised to create windfall for states | Trump to attend Davos | Dimon walks back bitcoin criticism MORE's office.

“As soon as we see something in writing, then we can understand how we can thoughtfully understand what we'll do with it,” Sessions said.

House Majority Leader Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorEric Cantor: Moore ‘deserves to lose’ If we want to make immigration great again, let's make it bipartisan Top Lobbyists 2017: Hired Guns MORE (R-Va.) wouldn't comment on the emerging Senate deal, but he told reporters House Republicans would meet Tuesday morning “to discuss a way forward.” "Possible consideration of legislation related to the debt limit" was added to Cantor's daily House schedule for Tuesday.

That meeting of House Republicans could be a lively one, given the friction that has developed between House and Senate Republicans over the last several weeks.

Many Senate Republicans are angry with Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzWith religious liberty memo, Trump made America free to be faithful again Interstate compacts aren't the right way to fix occupational licensing laws Texas Dem: ‘I don’t know what to believe’ about what Trump wants for wall MORE (R-Texas) for pushing the strategy adopted by House Republicans to demand changes to ObamaCare in exchange for funding the government.

They’ve also been frustrated with Boehner and other GOP leaders for not standing up to their conference.

House Republicans are just as frustrated with their Senate counterparts, who they see as rolling over to Democrats.

“It's just kick the can down the road,” Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) said of the evolving Senate deal.

He said he hopes to hear at a Tuesday conference meeting that “House Republicans will hold the line” and insist on more immediate spending cuts.

Funding the government to Jan. 15 is a concession from Democrats, who had wanted an earlier deadline to make it more likely they could negotiate higher spending levels in a budget for most of 2014.

Under the current budget law, spending for 2014 will automatically be reduced by $19 billion to $967 billion 15 days after Congress adjourns, which is expected to be about Jan. 15.

Senate Democrats have pushed for sequestration to end, bringing the yearly discretionary budget to $1.058 trillion while Republicans have pushed to keep the $967 billion total while shifting cuts from defense programs to social programs.

A few parts of the deal remain in flux.

The deal does not make any significant changes to ObamaCare and would not delay or end a tax on medical devices that is opposed by members of both parties.

Democratic aides said Reid would only accept reforms to ObamaCare, such as repealing or delaying the tax, if Republicans gave them something in return.

The deal does include the more modest change of verifying the income claims of people applying for insurance subsidies. Democrats said they could agree to that change because it would merely enforce existing law.

The deal also includes a delay until 2015 of an ObamaCare reinsurance tax that is opposed by unions.

Under the healthcare reform law, states are required to set up a transitional reinsurance program aimed at stabilizing premiums. As part of that transition, companies providing healthcare would be required to pay $63 per covered person in 2014, as well as lower fees the following two years.

This concession in particular could be tough for House Republicans to accept.

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 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.) expressed confidence they would finalize a deal soon.

“We hope, with good fortune and the support of all of you, recognizing how hard this is for everybody, that perhaps tomorrow will be a bright day,” Reid said on the Senate floor. “We’re not there yet. We hope it will be.”

“It’s safe to say we’ve made substantial progress and we look forward to making more progress in the near future,” said McConnell.

Senate conservatives, however, appeared divided.

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 leading Tea Party voice, called for action to end the shutdown and pledged not to slow down floor procedures.

“I think we need to get an agreement and open government back up,” he said.

Cruz declined to say whether he would attempt another filibuster to block the emerging deal.

“We’ll have to wait to see what the details are,” he said.

The Senate Republican Conference had been set to meet Monday evening to review the tentative compromise but will instead meet Tuesday morning when more lawmakers will be available to attend.

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMcCain rips Trump for attacks on press NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Meghan McCain says her father regrets opposition to MLK Day MORE (R-Ariz.) said the party’s brutal poll numbers had made it clear to many of his colleagues they need to accept a deal and end the shutdown as soon as possible.

When asked why he was confident, he pointed to a piece of paper in his hands and read, “74 percent of Americans disapprove of the way Republicans in Washington are handling the nation's budget crisis. That's why!”

Reid and McConnell would need the cooperation of their respective conferences to get the deal passed by Friday.

They plan to use the 14-month debt-limit extension, which Senate Republicans blocked Saturday, as a vehicle. The existing language would be replaced by any agreement Reid and McConnell finalize.

— Bernie Becker, Russell Berman, Emily Goodin and Peter Schroeder contributed

— This story was posted Monday at 4:20 p.m. and last updated Tuesday at 9:47 a.m.