Senate Leaders Step In to Beat Debt Limit Clock

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on October 12, 2013 in Washington, DC.

The adults may have finally entered the room, five days before the debt-limit deadline that could trigger economic catastrophe.

While House Republicans held a pep rally in the basement of the Capitol on Saturday morning, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell joined Majority Leader Harry Reid in his office, starting the negotiation process that will reopen the government and avert a U.S. default. The senior Democratic senator from New York, Chuck Schumer, and the senior Republican senator from Tennessee, Lamar Alexander, were also in the room.

Saturday’s meeting, the first of significance between McConnell and Reid since the summer recess, signals a softening in the fierce impasse that has permeated the halls of Congress. Senators said Saturday that they will be the ones to lead the country back to the path of fiscal responsibility.

“At this point they have dealt themselves out of this process,” Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said of the House. “They cannot agree among themselves. That makes it extremely difficult to take them seriously. ”

“I think that it’s time,” said Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.). “The House hasn’t come forward with a plan today.” She added, “If there is a way that the Senate can come forth with something that opens up the government and addresses the debt ceiling in a responsible way, then obviously we should try to do it.”

The Senate, where a supermajority of 60 is required for most votes, has also been in a state of deadlock as of late, even if not on the same level as the House. The Senate failed Saturday to pass a Democratic bill that would raise the debt ceiling through 2014 without any spending cuts or changes to Obamacare.

The most detailed proposal offered by Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), has little support in the House or Senate. That plan would extend the debt ceiling through January, continue funding the government at sequester levels for six months, and allow more flexibility in administering the federal budget cuts under sequestration. The plan, which hasn’t been scheduled for a floor vote, would delay the Obamacare medical device tax for two years and require income verification for Americans seeking subsidies for Obamacare.

House Republicans believe that the proposal is a move to block them from the bargaining table, and House Speaker John Boehner has advocated for just a six-week debt limit extension. Senate Democrats also widely decried the Collins plan, saying that the spending level is too low, among other major concerns.

“There’s all kind of ad hoc conversations taking place,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). “The real conversation that matters now is the one taking place between McConnell and Reid.”

“There are people that have different proposals floating around,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). “There are probably four or five of those, but the proposal that will get the leadership of the House and the Senate and the President is not out there at this time.”