Senate takes lead as House talks stall

Reid, McConnell meet seeking end to impasse

President Obama met with Senate Democratic leaders Dick Durbin, Chuck Schumer, Harry Reid, and Patty Murray in the White House on Saturday afternoon.
Martin H. Simon/EPA/Pool
President Obama met with Senate Democratic leaders Dick Durbin, Chuck Schumer, Harry Reid, and Patty Murray in the White House on Saturday afternoon.

WASHINGTON — The brief optimism that lawmakers would soon agree upon a deal to reopen the government was dashed Saturday when House Speaker John Boehner told fellow Republicans that negotiations with the White House had come to a standstill.

With just four days until the nation hits its borrowing limit, House Republicans have no plan to extricate the country from the federal shutdown or prevent it from defaulting on its debts — other than their failed attempts to dismantle President Obama’s health care law. Instead, they are looking warily toward their Senate counterparts for a way out.

“All eyes are now on the Senate,” said Illinois Representative Adam Kinzinger , as he emerged from a closed-door meeting of House Republicans.


“It’s now up to Senate Republicans to stand up,” said Raul Labrador, an Idaho Republican.

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But even as Senator majority leader Harry Reid and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell met Saturday morning for the first time since the impasse, hopes for a quick solution were slim.

“This should be seen as something very positive even though we don’t have anything done yet and have a long ways to go before anything like that will happen,” Reid said.

Senate Democratic leaders also met with Obama at the White House on Saturday afternoon. ‘‘Manufacturing crises to extract massive concessions isn’t how our democracy works, and we have to stop it,’’ the president said in his weekly radio and Internet address.

The House is recessed until Monday. The Senate will reconvene Sunday, and Reid and McConnell indicated they would continue talking through the weekend.


Saturday’s hourlong meeting between Reid and McConnell was followed by Senate action in which Republicans blocked a Democratic procedural measure to raise the $16.7 trillion debt limit through December 2014. The vote was six short of the 60-vote majority needed to block a filibuster.

Also sidelined — for the time being — was a separate compromise plan floated by Senator Susan Collins, a moderate Republican from Maine, to reopen the government.

Reid rejected it on Saturday, telling reporters at a press conference that “it’s not going to go anyplace at this stage.”

The plan, which the White House had called “constructive” but remained unpopular with many House Republicans and Senate Democrats, would have funded the government for six months and raised the debt ceiling until the end of January.

It also would have postponed the 2.3 percent medical device tax that is supposed to help fund the health care law, and strengthened the income verification system to determine whether people qualify for federal health insurance subsidies.


“Susan Collins is one of my favorite senators, Democrat or Republican. I appreciate her efforts as always to find a consensus,” Reid said.

But he said he could not get behind a plan that keeps cuts in place made under sequestration, and that alters the health care law without giving Democrats anything in return.

“They’re not doing us a favor by reopening the government. They’re not doing us a favor by extending the debt ceiling,” Reid said. “This is not a concession. This is basically doing our jobs.”

Collins, who canceled a Saturday afternoon press conference to tout the bipartisan proposal, called Reid’s dismissal of her plan “unfortunate.” She said she has no plans to scuttle her proposal and is continuing to meet with members on both sides of the aisle.

Six Senate Republicans and six Senate Democrats met twice on Saturday to discuss how to move forward with some version of the plan, she said.

“These meetings were constructive and give me hope that a bipartisan solution to reopen government and prevent default is within our reach,” Collins said in a statement.

Unlike his Republican colleagues in the House, Senator Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri, said he sees negotiations advancing because “for the first time, even though the White House is not involved in a visible way, at least people are talking that need to be talking,” referring to the Reid and McConnell discussions.

“Hopefully we’re not wasting our time by sending legislation that the House wouldn’t accept,” Blunt said.

Senator Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, said it is the responsibility of House leadership to convince its Tea Party wing that the country’s economy is in jeopardy.

“The important people are the audience this is all being directed toward, which ultimately are the controlling Republican Tea Party wing of the House of Representatives,” Markey said in an interview.

“There are discussions going forward here on the Senate side,’’ he said. “The missing ingredient is, of course, what is going on with the House Republicans?”

Many House Republicans Saturday lashed out at Obama for refusing to negotiate, despite meeting with Republicans in both chambers at the White House last week.

“He’s still my way or the highway,” said Representative John Carter, a Texas Republican. “He’s still acting like a royal president.”

Representative Thomas Massie, a Kentucky Republican, said the way things look, “I’m thinking that we might be going to surrender to the president.”

“He’s basically trying to be a bully here,” Massie said. But House Republicans are still united, he said, around “standing firm.”

Representative Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican, said she wants Obama to just pick one of the funding plans already passed by the House to negotiate from.

“It’s kind of like the lottery. Pick one up, choose it. Let’s sit down and work on this,” Blackburn said.

Representative Scott Rigell, a Virginia Republican who was the only GOP member to vote against a previous House plan to defund Obama’s health care law, said after meeting fellow Republicans on Saturday morning that he is disappointed Boehner has not outlined a clearer path forward.

“There is a lack of clarity to me as to exactly what specific objective we are working to advance,” Rigell said.

“We owe the American people a more defined objective or set of objectives,’’ he said. “I am hoping that over the next few days that we refine that and put more form and substance to it.”