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.

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Democrats have decided to ratchet up pressure on Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats seek leverage for trial Democrats spend big to put Senate in play House Democrats to vote on flavored e-cigarettes ban next year 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 ReidNevada journalist: Harry Reid will play 'significant role' in Democratic primary The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - A crucial week on impeachment The Hill's Morning Report — Pelosi makes it official: Trump will be impeached 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 DurbinJulián Castro jabs ICE: 'Delete your account' Watchdog: Steele dossier 'had no impact' on opening of 2016 probe Horowitz: 'Very concerned' about FBI leaks to Giuliani 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) TesterTrump trade deal likely to sow division in Democratic presidential field Krystal Ball: Is this how Bernie Sanders will break the establishment? GOP braces for Democratic spending onslaught in battle for Senate 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 spend big to put Senate in play Senate confirms Trump's 50th circuit judge, despite 'not qualified' rating Republicans consider skipping witnesses in Trump impeachment trial 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 HeitkampPro-trade group launches media buy as Trump and Democrats near deal on new NAFTA The Hill's Morning Report — Biden steadies in third debate as top tier remains the same Trump wins 60 percent approval in rural areas of key states MORE (D-N.D.), Mark PryorMark Lunsford PryorTom Cotton's only Democratic rival quits race in Arkansas Medicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation MORE (D-Ark.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyGinsburg health scare raises prospect of election year Supreme Court battle Watchdog accuses pro-Kavanaugh group of sending illegal robotexts in 2018 Lobbying world MORE (D-Ind.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinManchin warns he'll slow-walk government funding bill until he gets deal on miners legislation Krystal Ball: Is this how Bernie Sanders will break the establishment? Potential Dem defectors face pressure on impeachment MORE (D-W.Va.), Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Democrats seek leverage for trial Horowitz offers troubling picture of FBI's Trump campaign probe MORE (D-Minn.) and Angus KingAngus KingHillicon Valley: Pentagon pushes back on Amazon lawsuit | Lawmakers dismiss Chinese threat to US tech companies | YouTube unveils new anti-harassment policy | Agencies get annual IT grades Legislation to protect electric grid from cyberattacks added to massive defense bill Lawmakers dismiss Chinese retaliatory threat to US tech MORE (Maine), an independent who caucuses with Democrats, signed it.

Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerRNC says ex-Trump ambassador nominee's efforts 'to link future contributions to an official action' were 'inappropriate' Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Nareit — White House cheers Republicans for storming impeachment hearing 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 PaulOvernight Defense: House passes compromise defense bill | Turkey sanctions advance in Senate over Trump objections | Top general says military won't be 'raping, burning and pillaging' after Trump pardons Rand Paul: 'We need to re-examine' US-Saudi relationship after Florida shooting Senate panel advances Turkey sanctions bill despite Trump objections 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 MurrayOvernight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Deal on surprise medical bills faces obstacles | House GOP unveils rival drug pricing measure ahead of Pelosi vote | Justices to hear case over billions in ObamaCare payments Obstacles remain for deal on surprise medical bills Key House and Senate health leaders reach deal to stop surprise medical bills 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 SchumerKrystal Ball: Is this how Bernie Sanders will break the establishment? TikTok chief cancels Capitol Hill meetings, inflaming tensions Overnight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Deal on surprise medical bills faces obstacles | House GOP unveils rival drug pricing measure ahead of Pelosi vote | Justices to hear case over billions in ObamaCare payments 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 SchumerKrystal Ball: Is this how Bernie Sanders will break the establishment? TikTok chief cancels Capitol Hill meetings, inflaming tensions Overnight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Deal on surprise medical bills faces obstacles | House GOP unveils rival drug pricing measure ahead of Pelosi vote | Justices to hear case over billions in ObamaCare payments 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.