Thursday, December 12, 2013
WASHINGTON — Senate Democratic leaders Saturday rejected a proposal from Maine Sen. Susan Collins to end the government shutdown and extend the nation’s debt limit, potentially sinking a plan that she and other Republicans hoped would become the framework for a bipartisan deal.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is followed by reporters as she leaves a meeting of Senate Republicans regarding the government shutdown and debt ceiling on Capitol Hill in Washington on Saturday.
“Susan Collins is one of my favorite senators, Democrat or Republican, and I appreciate her efforts, as always, to find a consensus,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. “But the plan that she has suggested ... is not going to go anyplace at this stage.”
It was another day of both political maneuvering and closed-door negotiations in Washington as Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., essentially took over negotiations from rank-and-file members. The two met early Saturday to discuss a way out of the impasse.
Later, Senate Republicans angered Democrats by voting to block consideration of a bill that would have increased the debt ceiling by $1 trillion and extended it through 2014.
Meanwhile, the House Republican caucus that used budget negotiations to try to gut the Affordable Care Act said it had been essentially sidelined by the White House. The day closed with few signs that Congress and the White House were close to a deal to reopen shuttered government offices and avoid a government default that many economists predict would have severe economic consequences.
“The trend is better than it has been, but we don’t have much time,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., often a senior negotiator for the Senate Democrats.
The pressure is on the bitterly divided Congress to reach a compromise before the government finds itself with too little cash on hand to pay the bills, which Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has said could happen as soon as Thursday. Economists and financial experts warn that defaulting on the national debt could send financial markets plummeting, jack up interest rates, throw the United States back into a recession and destabilize the global economy.
In addition, hundreds of thousands of workers are still on unpaid furlough – and hundreds of thousands more are working without pay – because of the government shutdown.
The effects of the shutdown also grow each day as government programs exhaust available cash reserves. For instance, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has warned that it will be unable to make disability compensation and pension benefits payments to more than 5 million veterans and surviving family members by month’s end unless VA offices are reopened.
The shutdown resulted from partisan disagreement over the budget and the Affordable Care Act. Conservative Republicans sought to link funding for government operations to the health care act in an effort to gut the program. House Republicans have since passed numerous piecemeal approaches to funding specific government functions, but Democrats have rejected most of those amid demands that Congress fully reopen government.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud of Maine said Saturday that he has signed a petition to allow a vote on a continuing resolution to fund the federal government.
He says the discharge petition would allow a majority of members to bypass the speaker of the House and force a vote on the bill.
Michaud, who is running for governor in 2014, said Saturday that Congress will get to vote to end the shutdown if all members who say they would vote to reopen the government sign the petition.
The situation remained extremely fluid Saturday, as evidenced by events surrounding Collins’ proposal. Collins planned to hold a midafternoon news conference in the Capitol with other senators – including several Democrats – to discuss their plan. But the event was co-opted by Democratic leaders holding their own news conference in the same space, which is when Reid announced that Collins’ plan would not “go anyplace at this stage.” Collins’ event was then scrapped.
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