GOP scrambles to produce plan to end shutdown
Talks on Capitol Hill advanced with a new urgency after President Obama rejected House Speaker John A. Boehner's offer to raise the debt limit through late November to give the parties time to negotiate a broader budget deal.
Briefing reporters after markets closed for the week, White House press secretary Jay Carney praised a "new willingness" among Republicans to end the government shutdown - now in its 12th day - and to acknowledge that default on the national debt "would be catastrophically damaging."
But with the Treasury Department due to exhaust its borrowing authority in just six days, Carney said the president would not agree to go through another round of economy-rattling talks in six weeks, just before the Christmas shopping season.
Before Carney spoke, Obama telephoned Boehner (R., Ohio), and the two men agreed to keep talking, aides said. Afterward, GOP senators marched into Boehner's office and counseled him to adopt an approach they had presented to Obama earlier in the day, during their own meeting at the White House.
With Republicans getting battered in public opinion polls over the shutdown, Senate GOP leaders urged Boehner to join them in supporting a single, big-bang measure that would open the government and raise the debt limit in one fell swoop.
"I laid out some of those ideas, and the question is, can the House find a center of gravity to open the government up around those ideas," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) said after exiting the speaker's office with Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R., Ga.). The two men, former House members, have been close friends with Boehner for almost 20 years.
Details were still fluid late Friday, but the latest 23-page draft of the emerging measure would immediately end the shutdown and fund federal agencies for six months at current spending levels. It would maintain the deep automatic cuts known as the sequester but give agency officials flexibility to decide where the cuts should fall.
In addition, the proposal would raise the debt limit through Jan. 31, 2014. Lawmakers were considering whether to include a provision that would direct the House and Senate budget committees to immediately enter negotiations over broader budget issues and to issue a report by Jan. 15, 2014. If an agreement could be reached, it would clear a path for another increase in the debt limit later that month, without additional drama.
In exchange, Republicans were seeking what they called a few "fig leaves" - minor adjustments to Obama's new health-care initiative. The first would delay for two years a 2.3 percent tax on medical devices that is unpopular in both parties. The second would require internal auditors to ensure that people who get tax subsidies to buy health insurance are in fact eligible.
Another option under consideration but not included in the latest draft would reduce the number of employees entitled to receive health coverage from their employers by changing the definition of a full-time worker from 30 hours a week to 40 hours a week.
In an interview with a Kentucky newspaper Friday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) signaled that he was helping to shepherd the effort to reach a compromise with Democrats.
"We're in one of those situations right now where it's going to require some sort of coming together here to get past the current impasse. And I'm going to continue to work on that," McConnell told the Lexington Herald-Leader.
GOP senators and aides said Boehner has been told that Senate Republicans will negotiate their own pact with Senate Democrats if he fails to act.