The Two-Way
7:21 am
Tue October 15, 2013

On Capitol Hill, A Flurry Of Activity But Still No Deal

Originally published on Tue October 15, 2013 10:16 pm

(This post was last updated at 11:05 p.m. ET)

With a little more than a day to go before the nation potentially defaults on its debts, there's still no solid plan on the table in Washington.

There was a flurry of activity on Tuesday, but it produced little significant movement.

The House tried twice to craft a proposal to end the shutdown and extend the debt ceiling, only to pull them back because they didn't have enough votes within the GOP to pass them. The Senate had restarted talks of its own and it was thought they might have a deal by the end of Tuesday night, but they adjourned just after 10 p.m. without any announcement of a deal.

"Given tonight's events, the Leaders have decided to work toward a solution that would reopen the government and prevent default," Don Stewart, a spokesman for minority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, said in a statement. "They are optimistic an agreement can be reached."

Perhaps as a reminder of what's at stake, here, as all of this was going on in Congress, Fitch Ratings issued a warning shot, saying that while it affirmed the United States' AAA credit rating, it was placing the country's long-term credit rating under review for a potential downgrade.

The main reason? The debacle unfolding in Washington.

In the early evening, things looked promising, when the House GOP unveiled a measure that would have ended the shutdown and raised the debt ceiling in exchange for some changes to the Affordable Care Act.

But even before the dust settled on that second proposal, Heritage Action for America, a key conservative influencer, encouraged lawmakers to vote against it, adding that it would be scoring the action.

Support for the measure melted and House Republicans gave up on it, saying there would be no vote and no action on Tuesday.

So the bottom line so far? About a day before the country runs out of borrowing authority, there is no firm deal.

We'll be following the latest through the night, so hit refresh often.

Update at 8:42 p.m. ET. What Happens Next?:

The Senate majority and minority leaders are working on a compromise. Politico, The Washington Post and CNN reported that aides tell them a deal is close and could be announced tonight.

The Senate, however, is not expected to vote on a measure until Wednesday, less than 24 hours before the government hits the debt ceiling, potentially triggering a historic default.

As Politico and the Huffington Post explain, however, the bill will have to sail through the Senate with zero opposition, because any member of the Senate can delay a bill for 30 hours if they wanted.

With the clock ticking, the Senate won't have much time to entertain objections.

Update at 7:28 p.m. ET. Senate Will Resume Talks:

Earlier today Senate leaders decided to suspend talks on their side to allow the House to try to come up with an agreement.

"Given tonight's events, the Leaders have decided to work toward a solution that would reopen the government and prevent default," Don Stewart, a spokesman for minority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, said in a statement. "They are optimistic an agreement can be reached."

The issue in the Senate is time. Because of procedural rules, it would take much longer to move a piece of legislation through the Senate. The motion would also be vulnerable to a filibuster. Remember Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, who has been key in orchestrating the GOP hardline in the House, has already staged a 21-hour, symbolic filibuster against the Affordable Care Act.

Update at 6:58 p.m. ET. No Action, No Votes Tonight:

After finding that they did not have enough votes to pass a measure that would have reopened the government and raised the debt ceiling, the House will not vote tonight.

"We are going to be prepared tomorrow to make some decisions," Rep. Pete Sessions, the House Rules Committee chairman, told NPR's Tamara Keith.

This essentially means that with about 29 hours before the country runs out of borrowing authority, there is no solid plan on the table. There is no word from the Senate on whether they will try to move forward with a plan of their own.

Update at 6:28 p.m. ET. Heritage Action:

Shortly before the House Rules Committee postponed its meeting, Heritage Action for America, the political activist offshoot of the Heritage Foundation and a key influencer in conservative Washington, said it would be scoring a vote on the measure.

"Unfortunately, the proposed deal will do nothing to stop Obamacare's massive new entitlements from taking root — radically changing the nature of American health care," Heritage Action said in a statement.

Earlier this month, Heritage Action said it could go along with a clean, six-week extension of the debt ceiling. The key difference is that the previous measure simply raised the debt ceiling and did not reopen the government.

The measure unveiled by the GOP leadership in the House earlier today, did both of those things with some changes to the Affordable Care Act. The changes were not enough for Heritage Action.

Update at 6:26 p.m. ET. Leadership Will Meet:

A House leadership aide tells NPR's Tamara Keith that no final decision about the measure has been made.

"The elected leadership will meet soon," the aide said.

Update at 5:47 p.m. ET. Falling Apart:

About an hour after Boehner revealed the details of his plan, it seems in real danger right now. NPR's Tamara Keith says the Rules Committee meeting:

"Has been postponed 'subject to the call of the chair.' I'll take this as a sign that today's plan B is falling apart."

Update at 5:11 p.m. ET. Fitch Threatens Downgrade:

Fitch Ratings, one of the big three credit ratings agencies, issued a warning shot today, saying that while it affirmed the United States' AAA credit rating, it was placing it on "rating watch negative."

The main reason? The debacle in Washington. Remember, the last time a debt ceiling debate got this hot and heavy, S&P downgraded the U.S.'s long-term credit rating to AA-plus.

"The prolonged negotiations over raising the debt ceiling (following the episode in August 2011) risks undermining confidence in the role of the U.S. dollar as the preeminent global reserve currency, by casting doubt over the full faith and credit of the U.S.," Fitch said in a statement. "This 'faith' is a key reason why the U.S. 'AAA' rating can tolerate a substantially higher level of public debt than other 'AAA' sovereigns."

Update at 4:55 p.m. ET. House Will Vote Tonight:

Speaker Boehner's spokesman Michael Steel says the House will vote tonight on a measure that reopens the government and extends the U.S. borrowing authority.

A GOP aide outlined the measure saying in exchange for those things, the measure calls on Congress and its staff to forgo federal subsidies for their health insurance and extends the debt ceiling through Feb. 7.

It also calls on the Treasury to drop its use of "extraordinary measures" to extend the time it can operate without raising the debt ceiling.

It's still unclear whether the Senate and the White House will find this deal acceptable.

Our Original Post Continues:

House GOP Leaders Float Plan

House Speaker John Boehner said at a news conference that Republican leaders were "trying to find a way forward" in the partisan impasse. He hinted at a possible plan to counter an emerging bipartisan Senate deal to end the shutdown and temporarily extend the debt limit. But Boehner was short on specifics, saying that there had been "no decisions about what exactly we will do" and acknowledging "a lot of opinions" among his colleagues.

The lack of clarity contrasted with reports Tuesday morning of a House proposal that called for a two-year delay of a tax on medical devices tied to the Affordable Care Act and would reopen the federal government. And it wasn't clear whether the speaker could muster the votes to get such a plan out of his chamber, let alone past the Democratic-controlled Senate or signed by the president.

Any House GOP plan could throw a monkey wrench into the partisan political mix and thwart a deal before Thursday, when a debt ceiling deadline expires and the federal government will no longer be able to borrow money and will have to pay bills with only the cash it has on hand each day.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi decried the "Republican act of sabotage" that was "a luxury our country cannot afford."

The New York Times reports that the "apparent disarray left Mr. Boehner with a crucial decision to make as time ticked down toward a possible default on government obligations on Thursday. Does he accept whatever bipartisan plan emerges from the Senate, most likely on Tuesday, or does he continue to try to get House Republicans in line behind a counterproposal that, as of yet, does not exist?"

House Democratic leaders were expected to meet with President Obama later this afternoon to discuss their options.

Senate Close To A Deal?

Senators were watching closely to see what the House would do. As Politico writes:

"Fast-paced Senate talks to reopen the government and avert a default came to a temporary halt Tuesday as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell waited to see whether House Republicans could pass their latest proposal."

The Senate proposal, while not yet final, reportedly would fund the government through Jan. 15 and suspend the debt ceiling until Feb. 7. It would include only limited changes to the Affordable Care Act and was thought to represent a compromise that Obama and congressional Democrats would accept.

USA Today describes the plan as "approving a stopgap funding bill to reopen government through Jan. 15; suspend the debt ceiling until Feb. 7; and create the framework for formal budget negotiations to conclude by Dec. 15 with long-term recommendations for funding levels and deficit reduction."

In exchange, The Washington Post says, "policymakers would launch a new round of talks over broader budget issues in hopes of developing a plan to replace deep automatic spending cuts known as the sequester before Jan. 15 ... [and minor] safeguards to ensure that people who receive federal subsidies to purchase health insurance under the law are eligible to receive them."

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said, "The president is pleased with the progress that has been made in the Senate."

"There is a potential for a resolution to this manufactured crisis," he said, adding that the impending debt ceiling deadline had provided some clarity for lawmakers.

But as NPR's Liz Halloran notes:

"Even if Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell come up with a deal, passage is far from a sure thing in the fractious, GOP-controlled House. Jonathan Strong, writing in the National Review, says that 'even a deal cut by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is no fait accompli in the House. ...' And Strong brings up the tricky timing of the whole endeavor, suggesting that even if the Senate begins work on today on a debt ceiling bill, it could take until Saturday to get passed. 'In that time,' he says, during which Thursday's debt-ceiling deadline hits, '[GOP House Speaker John] Boehner could go on offense.' "

What Happens If Debt Ceiling Is Reached?

As we wrote last week, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew has made dire predictions in the event that Congress fails to raise the limit by Thursday.

"It could deeply damage financial markets, the ongoing economic recovery, and the jobs and savings of millions of Americans," he said.

"No Congress in 224 years of American history has allowed our country to default, and it's my sincere hope that this Congress will not be the first," Lew said.

However, as The Wall Street Journal reports, the exact date of the default isn't so cut and dried as is being made out.

"The Treasury Department says Congress must extend the government's authority to borrow money by Oct. 17, or place 'our economy in a dangerous position.' Some Republicans, fighting the administration on several fronts during the current shutdown, have ringed another date for disaster. They say any default on government debt might not happen until Nov. 1 — and even then, a catastrophe won't necessarily occur.

"It is easy to paint this as just another political skirmish. But there are legitimate reasons to quibble over the date of calamity. Treasury has cited the time easiest to pinpoint: when the government is no longer able to borrow. But that is very different from running out of cash entirely. And that date remains elusive."

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