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.

ADVERTISEMENT
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 Grassley (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 Boehner (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 Boehner'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 Cantor (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 Cruz (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 Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (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 Paul (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 McCain (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.