Debt Ceiling Looming, Senate Leaders Eye Agreement

Reid and McConnell making progress toward a deal to end shutdown and lift debt ceiling

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Washington seemed closer to resolving its bitter impasse over the government shutdown and the debt ceiling on Monday, as top Senators looked to broker a deal, while President Barack Obama scheduled and then postponed a meeting with Hill leaders to give them more time to talk.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid and minority leader Mitch McConnell both said things were looking brighter, and sources said Reid privately made an offer to McConnell that would raise the debt limit and reopen the government, though the details of that offer remain murky.

“We have had an opportunity over the last couple of days to have some very constructive exchanges of views about how to move forward,” McConnell, the top Senate Republican, said on the House floor. “Those discussions continue, and I share [the] optimism that we’re going to get a result that will be acceptable to both sides.”

Reid agreed that “constructive, good faith negotiations” are under way.

“I’m very optimistic that we will reach an agreement that’s reasonable in nature this week to reopen the government, pay the nation’s bills and begin long-term negotiations to put our country on sound fiscal footing,” Reid said.

Negotiations shifted to the Senate after talks between Obama and House Republicans failed to yield an agreement last week.

Earlier in the day, a White House official said Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Reid, McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi would meet at 3 p.m. in the Oval Office. That meeting was postponed “to allow leaders in the Senate time to continue making important progress,” the White House said.

“With only a few days until the government runs out of borrowing authority, the President will make clear the need for Congress to act to pay our bills, and reopen the government,” a White House official said of the meeting before it was postponed. “The President will also reiterate our principles to the leaders: we will not pay a ransom for Congress reopening the government and raising the debt limit. The President continues to urge Congress to pass a bill that raises the debt ceiling and lends the certainty our businesses and the economy needs.”

Biden’s potential return to the talks after a weekend vacation at Camp David may be an indication that his assistance — and his warmer relationship with top Republicans — will be needed to close a deal.

Obama also took an unannounced trip Monday to a Washington, D.C., charity, Martha’s Table, where he thanked federal workers who were volunteering while they are furloughed because of the shutdown. Obama told reporters that there has been “some progress on the Senate side with Republicans recognizing it’s not tenable, it’s not smart, it’s not good for the American people to let America default.”

“There has been some progress in recognizing we’re not going to be able to completely bridge the differences between the parties all at once,” he added.