Republican leaders say they are negotiating directly with President Barack Obama and “fully engaged” to reach an agreement that will settle the debt limit crisis before the Aug. 2 deadline.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R. –Ky.) said he spoke directly with the president and Vice President Joe Biden late Saturday afternoon and is “confident and optimistic we are going to get an agreement in the very near future.”
The announcement came on the heels of a House vote that defeated a proposal crafted by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid while still tied up in the upper chamber and likely to fail on a procedural vote.
House Speaker John Boehner was forced to delay a vote on his plan Thursday night for 24 hours to convince members of the Tea Party caucus to support the Republican version. Hours later, Senate Democrats tabled Boehner’s measure.
But the wrangling gives McConnell and Boehner the ammunition they need to show Obama that only a Republican measure can pass the House and that a Democrat plan can’t pass the House or even the Senate where they hold the majority.
“If the president decides to reach an agreement with us, the Democrats will fall in line. He is the leader of the Democrat Party,” McConnell said.
“We now have a level of seriousness with the right people at the table … we’re going to get a result,” McConnell said.
“He needs to indicate what he will sign, and we are in those discussions now,” McConnell said.
Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi were called to the White House for a meeting with Obama after the House vote. Upon returning to the Capitol shortly before 6 p.m., Reid said they were not close to an agreement.
The Reid proposal was defeated in the rare Saturday session by a vote of 246 to 173. All Republicans voted against the Reid plan, along with 11 Democrats including Reps. John Barrow (Ga.), Dan Boren (Okla.), Bruce Braley (Iowa), David Loebsack (Iowa), Jim Matheson (Utah), Mike McIntyre (NC), Collin Peterson (Minn.), Mike Ross (Ark.), Kurt Schrader (Ore.), Peter Visclosky (Ind.), and David Wu (Ore.).
Democrats in the Senate do not have enough votes to pass the Reid legislation, but have until 1 a.m. Sunday to convince Republicans to cross party lines and Reid indicated negotiations are ongoing to get the necessary votes.
“There are things going on,” Reid said. “A number of them (Repubicans) have already agreed to work with us.”
Earlier in the day, forty-three Republican senators sent a letter to Reid stating their opposition to his plan. The only Republicans who did not sign were Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Olympia Snowe (Maine), Scott Brown (Mass.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).
“The only possible justification for a $2.4 trillion increase in borrowing authority is to allow the president to avoid any accountability for these issues before his 2012 election,” The Republican Senators said.
“It is by constantly putting off these tough decisions that we have found ourselves with a national debt nearly equal to the size of our gross domestic product. The time for action is now, we cannot wait until we accumulate another $2.4 trillion in debt,” the Republicans said.
Debate on the Reid plan reached fever pitch when Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Boehner “chose to go over to the dark side” to court Tea Party Republicans rather than compromise with Democrats.
When Rep. David Dreier (R. –Calif.), House Rules Chairman, tried to interrupt her for breaking House decorum, she began yelling, “I will not yield!”
Dreier declined to have Pelosi’s “words taken down,” a House rule used to discipline members of Congress for using inappropriate language during floor debates.
Michael Steel, Boehner’s spokesman said in a statement afterwards that the speaker’s long-standing support for a Balanced Budget Amendment has nothing to do with Darth Vader.”
A Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution is key to Tea Party support of Boehner’s plan and is not included in Reid’s version.
Both the Reid and Boehner plan call for cutting trillions of dollars in spending in exchange for allowing the debt ceiling to be raised above the set $14 trillion. Boehner’s plan raises the debt ceiling by $1 trillion with as much in cuts, Reid raises the debt ceiling by $2.4 trillion with $2.2 trillion in proposed cuts.
Members of the House Armed Services Committee criticized the cuts in Reid’s plan saying $859 billion would come out of defense spending.
“If we let this go quietly into the night, we will preside over the dismantling of the greatest military ever known,” said Rep. Randy Forbes (R. –Va.) chairman of House Armed Services subcommittee on readiness.