Debt ceiling: Senate talks of compromise plan, but House looks iffy, again

Debt ceiling: Senate talks of compromise plan, but House looks iffy, again
Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - 2:45am

There is no deal yet in Washington, but the deal-making resumes on Wednesday, day 16 of the government shutdown.

The country crashes into the debt ceiling at midnight, but there is hope.

Legislators dropped hints on their way home Tuesday that the Senate could present a deal Wednesday to raise the debt ceiling and reopen the partially shuttered government.

And a Republican member of the House of Representatives held out hope that Speaker John Boehner could put it on a fast track.

After adjourning the Senate for the night around 10 p.m., majority leader Sen. Harry Reid sounded upbeat. "We're in good shape," the Nevada Democrat said.

Senate staffers burned midnight oil to draft a framework bill, and a spokesman for Reid said he and his counterpart, minority leader, Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, "are optimistic that an agreement is within reach."

Slow process

Even so, it could take a day or two more for a deal to make it through the legislative process, longer than it will take for the debt ceiling to come grinding down.

If a new bill hits walls, as in the past, it could take even longer, pushing the U.S. into default.

The prospect of the U.S. government not meeting its debt obligations has economists around the world prophesying dire consequences. Mutual funds, which are not allowed to hold defaulted securities, may have to dump masses of U.S. Treasuries.

Ratings agency Fitch fired a warning shot Tuesday that it may downgrade the country's AAA credit rating to AA+ over the political brinksmanship and bickering in Washington that has brought the government to this point.

That could help raise interest rates on U.S. debt, putting the country deeper into the red.

Fast track

Republican House Speaker John Boehner could put a Senate deal on a fast track, a Republican colleague told CNN's Jake Tapper. But he'd have to make a bold political move to do so.

"I believe that John Boehner will likely be in a position, where he will have to essentially pass the bill that is negotiated between Senators McConnell and Reid," said Republican Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania.

Then Boehner could shoot it over to the Senate for its quick approval, and it could then lateral it to President Obama to sign.

But Boehner would probably have to break a Republican tradition, the Hastert Rule, to do that.

The informal tenet, named after former Speaker Dennis Hastert, says that the House Speaker does not introduce legislation, unless a majority of Republicans say they will vote for it first.

It has served to keep proposals off the floor, even if they have the prospect of passing via the votes of Democrats combined with those of some moderate Republicans.

House Republicans have expected Boehner to uphold the rule, which asserts the party's interests in the chamber, and he has pledged to do so.

A break from tradition

Dent hopes Boehner will make an exception and break the Hastert Rule to save the United States from a debt default, and he fears the Speaker will have to, if he wants the necessary legislation to pass.

Although many of his House Republican colleagues support the potential Senate deal, they would vote against it for political reasons, Dent said.

"There will be fewer Republican members voting for the bill than who actually support it," Dent told Tappert on the Capitol Hill lawn. "We're going to be seeing a lot of what I would call 'hope yes, vote no.'"

That would leave it up to the Democrats to pass it along with a contingency of Republicans like himself, provided Boehner puts it to a vote.

If he does, Dent will vote in favor of it alongside many House Democrats, and he thinks enough of his moderate Republican colleagues will join him to "put it over the top."

"The question is how many Republicans? Will it be closer to 20 or 75," Dent said. "I don't know. I hope I'm wrong."

Dent says he feels that it is his basic duty to fund the government and keep it able to pay its debts. He believes that the majority of House Republicans feel the same way.

"The challenge is (that) there are two to three dozen members of the House Republican caucus that don't share that," he said. "It only takes two or three dozen to obstruct the will of the majority."

Muddled plan

The House stumbled in an attempt to solve the problem Tuesday.

Sources said Tuesday that House Speaker John Boehner had been "struggling" to come up with enough votes in the GOP for it -- even though the Ohio Republican himself said "the idea of default is wrong."

The House proposal no longer attacks major parts of Obamacare, but does prohibit federal subsidies to federal lawmakers and their staff receiving health insurance through Affordable Care Act programs.

The House proposal also would have forbidden the Treasury from taking what it calls extraordinary measures to prevent the federal government from defaulting as cash runs low, in effect requiring hard deadlines to extend the federal debt ceiling.

House Democrats have said they would not support the House funding proposal. And it is unpopular with some Republican representatives, who see no spending cuts in it.

"It's just kicks the can down the road another six weeks or two months," said Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas

There is no sign that it would receive the 217 votes necessary to pass the House.

Time running out

President Barack Obama -- who will meet Wednesday with Treasury Secretary Jack Lew -- called for House Republicans to "do what's right" by reopening government and ensuring the United States can pay its bills, telling CNN affiliate WABC that "we don't have a lot of time."

Yet even he acknowledged Boehner's difficulty in getting his fellow House Republicans on the same page.

"(Boehner) negotiating with me isn't necessarily good for the extreme faction in his caucus," Obama told WABC. "It weakens him, so there have been repeated situations where we have agreements. Then he goes back, and it turns out that he can't control his caucus."

According to multiple sources, the House plan would have called for funding the government through December 15 to end the partial shutdown. It also would increase the federal debt ceiling until February 7.

Whether this GOP plan is dead or not isn't known. As he left the Capitol, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia said only that there would be "no votes tonight. We'll see you in the morning."

The rumored Senate proposal would give Republicans some concessions while being closer to what Obama and fellow Democrats have long pushed for regarding government funding and the debt ceiling.

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