All eyes on US Senate as shutdown talks continue
By Michael Mathes, AFPWASHINGTON--The Senate will hold a rare Sunday session as U.S. politicians grapple with how to reopen the shuttered government and avoid a potentially calamitous failure to pay the country's debt obligations.
October 14, 2013, 12:13 am TWN
With Republicans in the House of Representatives blaming President Barack Obama for the collapse of talks on extending U.S. borrowing authority, the Senate's Republican and Democratic leaders scrambled to piece together a bipartisan exit strategy.
The top senators showed an intensifying desire to end the two-week government shutdown and ease the threat of default with just three working days next week before the U.S. Treasury's Oct. 17 deadline for raising the debt ceiling.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Obama's top wingman in Congress, said he held “extremely cordial but very preliminary” talks Saturday with top Republican Senator Mitch McConnell.
“Nothing conclusive” emerged from the pair's first face-to-face discussion about the twin crises, Reid told reporters, downplaying hopes of a quick fix.
McConnell suggested a bipartisan offer spearheaded by moderate Republican Senator Susan Collins as a workable template, but Reid rejected it.
The measure would extend borrowing authority into 2014 and fund the government for six months, but it would also repeal a medical device tax introduced under Obama's health care law.
Democratic leaders were most concerned, however, with the proposal to keep the existing automatic spending cuts, a move that would put agency spending at US$70 billion below what Democrats have proposed for fiscal 2014.
'They felt they were duped'
Obama on Saturday made clear that he wanted a long-term deal, rejecting a proposal floated by House Speaker John Boehner suggesting a six-week extension to U.S. borrowing authority.
“It wouldn't be wise, as some suggest, to just kick the debt ceiling can down the road for a couple of months, and flirt with a first-ever intentional default right in the middle of the holiday shopping season,” Obama said in his weekly broadcast address.
House Republicans fumed over the change of heart.
“They felt they were duped,” Congressman John Fleming said of the House leadership as he exited from a Republican caucus meeting.
“They were led to believe that the president did want to negotiate in good faith and now they find out that that was never in the cards.”
House Republicans have argued for any budget deal to include concessions on funding Obama's health care reforms, while Senate Republicans are more willing to reopen government without such conditions.