Reid Scrambling For 60 Votes
July 30, 2011
Senate Democrats started Saturday short of the 60 votes needed to advance Majority Leader Harry Reid’s plan to raise the debt ceiling, setting the stage for frantic hours of negotiations before the threat of default early next week.
Senior officials in both parties believe that Reid’s latest plan — which would allow President Barack Obama to raise the debt limit in two separate stages of $1.2 trillion each without congressional approval and slash up to $2.4 trillion over the next decade — appeared unlikely to break a filibuster early Sunday morning — a vote currently scheduled for 1 a.m. ET.
That means Reid will spend Saturday, wooing a handful of Republican senators and in talks with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in the hopes of finding enough GOP support to break the logjam in the Senate.
It’s far from clear what will happen before Tuesday, when the Treasury warns the government will run out of money and begin to default on its bills, something that would roil the world’s economy.
If Reid gets enough votes to invoke cloture, the Senate could move toward final passage early Monday. If not, it’s very possible final action could slip until after Tuesday.
The House and Senate reconvene Saturday afternoon for a dramatic weekend session, where House Republicans are expected to reject Reid’s plan to demonstrate that Senate Democrats’ proposals have little support in the conservative body. Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy’s office said those votes will begin by 2:15 p.m. ET.
The White House and Senate Democratic leaders had wanted to finalize a debt ceiling deal with top congressional Republicans by the end of Friday night, fearing that waiting until Saturday could jeopardize efforts to get a final package to Obama.
On Friday, the Senate voted to reject House Speaker John Boehner’s plan to allow Obama to raise the debt ceiling through 2012 in two steps, provided that Congress act on a package of deficit cuts and move first on enacting a constitutional balanced budget amendment.
Saturday’s talks are expected to focus on stronger “trigger” mechanisms to force Congress to act on the second round of deficit cuts, and Reid may be forced to eliminate savings from winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — something that Republicans have opposed.
His original plan would have extended the debt limit in one swoop through the 2012 elections with a package of deficit cuts. But he revised the measure allowing for two separate installments, adopting language from a plan proposed by McConnell to allow Congress to formally disapprove of Obama’s debt ceiling hike.
That would virtually ensure the debt ceiling would be raised again and avoid a messy fight in an election year. Republicans have called for two debt ceiling hikes to secure greater leverage to enact more cuts.
Even if a bipartisan accord is reached when the Senate is in the cloture process, Reid would need unanimous consent to swap in any compromise measure, an unlikely scenario given the passions in the fight.
Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and senior White House officials have been talking with lawmakers across the Capitol this week, but Republicans put the talks on ice in recent days until the House took up the Boehner bill, according to Democratic officials familiar with the negotiations.
The officials said congressional leaders and the White House have gamed out many different scenarios and will be ready to draft a compromise and move very quickly.
McConnell told Reid Friday night that he wants the administration represented at the table in the talks.