Both Houses of Congress Try to Keep Fiscal Dialogue Going

The mood on Capitol Hill and in the White House was one of tempered optimism, even though neither the House Republicans nor the Obama administration has yet to produce any tangible areas of agreement. A phone call from President Obama to Speaker John A. Boehner on Friday afternoon yielded little more than an exchange of pleasantries. “They agreed that we should all keep talking,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner.

House Republicans were expected to hold a meeting for all members at 9 a.m. at which Mr. Boehner and his leadership team were to brief them on the latest developments in their negotiations with the White House. The Republicans have proposed increasing the Treasury Department’s authority to borrow money through Nov. 22, but only if Mr. Obama agreed to more expansive talks about overhauling the budget.

At the same time, the Senate was expected to vote Saturday on a Democratic proposal that would extend the debt ceiling through the end of 2014, with no strings attached. The plan appeared to lack enough Republican votes to pass, but was intended to pressure Republicans to take action to avert what could be a staggering fiscal crisis if the government defaults on its debts.

Despite the expected failure of the Senate Democrats’ proposal, Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, could execute a procedural maneuver known as a motion to recommit that would allow him to bring the plan to a vote again.

Senators Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, and Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, were also working to nail down the details of their own plan, which would extend the debt ceiling through the end of January and include a stopgap spending measure to reopen the government and finance it through the end of March.

The proposal would simultaneously call for an immediate bipartisan conference of members of the House and the Senate to address broader budget concerns. Republicans hoped the conference would consider some of the cuts to social programs — like means-testing for Medicare benefits — that Mr. Obama has suggested could be options.

The plan would also call for a delay, or at least an easing, of a tax on medical devices unpopular with some Democrats, and would give government agencies more flexibility on how to carry out the existing across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration.

When Ms. Collins presented a similar proposal to the president during a meeting on Friday, Mr. Obama called it “constructive.”

Senate Democrats have expressed confidence that they hold the upper hand in the showdown with Republicans, whose poll numbers are falling. But there was some unease, especially from Mr. Reid, that the president could agree to a deal that offered too many concessions to the Republicans.

But many conservative activists say that Congressional Republicans have already ceded too much in a fight that began as a battle to defund the president’s health care law. With most big proposed changes to the law, the Affordable Care Act, now off the table, the Heritage Foundation posted a blog on Friday that said any deal that did not deny financing to the health care law or delay it “may be a political win inside the Beltway but a loss for the American people.”

“This debate has never been about satisfying one political party or another,” read the blog post. “It’s been about common-sense solutions that protect the American people from Obamacare.”

Any Senate plan is likely to meet resistance in the Republican-controlled House. Representative Charlie Dent, a Republican who represents a swing district in Pennsylvania, said that Ms. Collins’s plan closely follows a similar proposal he and Representative Ron Kind, Democrat of Wisconsin, offered in the House. But he said he expected the Collins proposal would be a tough sell to members of both the far right and the far left.

“Some of them won’t like it, obviously, because it doesn’t repeal or defund Obamacare,” Mr. Dent said, referring to his party’s more conservative members. “I’m sure some on the far left aren’t going to like it either, because it does make a change to Obamacare.”

In his weekly address, Mr. Obama called the efforts of House Republicans to end the standoff “a positive development,” adding that “there is no good reason anyone should keep suffering through this shutdown.”

“Once the debt ceiling is raised, and the shutdown is over, there’s a lot we can accomplish together,” Mr. Obama said.

In the Republican response, Representative Howard P. McKeon, the California Republican who is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the meeting at the White House had been positive. Mr. McKeon said the two parties had agreed on some funding programs during the shutdown, and he urged Democrats to sit down with Republicans and reach a compromise.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/13/us/politics/budget-and-debt-limit-debate.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

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