An agreement seems to be in the works, but don't expect debt-ceiling negotiations to deal with the debt.
The GOP negotiating team is dominated by what the establishment media call "moderates" who are not likely to push for significant concessions on Obamacare or hold the line on spending and the spiraling national debt. It was Americans' concerns with those issues that caused House leaders to confront the administration in the first place.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he was optimistic that "we're going to get a result that will be acceptable to both sides." He has been meeting with Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Mike Johanns, R-Neb, and Mark Kirk, R-Ill.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Monday afternoon he was "very optimistic" about reaching a deal to end the two-week-old government shutdown and avoid defaulting on the national debt by the Thursday deadline.
That almost certainly means the deal will raise the $16.7 trillion borrowing limit and pave the way for increasing the national debt.
The plan would reopen the government and, as the Democrats want, raise the debt ceiling. In return, Republicans would get a postponement of the medical-device tax in Obamacare and a requirement that people who receive health care subsidies have their eligibility verified.
The deal would reportedly keep the government open until Jan. 15, when a $21 billion across-the-board sequestration cut is due, and raise the national debt limit until Feb. 15.
The deal is apparently stalled by the Democrats' demand that sequester budget cuts be eliminated by early next year. It doesn't seem like much of a sticking point: Republicans are insisting on keeping the cuts only until March.
However, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn, told CNBC: "Maybe it's that point in time when we have the opportunity ... to substitute some longer-term mandatory spending reforms" in place of the across-the-board sequester spending cuts.
The White House abruptly postponed the president's meeting with congressional leaders scheduled for Monday afternoon “to allow leaders in the Senate time to continue making important progress towards a solution that raises the debt limit and reopens the government.”
President Obama had vowed he would not negotiate with Republicans on the government shutdown and the debt ceiling, but apparently that meant he would have senators do it for him.
And, while negotiators were searching for common ground, the president complained that although "there has been some progress in the Senate," House Republicans "continue to think that somehow they can extract concessions by keeping the government shut down or by threatening default."
The big question now is whether the GOP-controlled House will accept the terms negotiated.
Follow Garth Kant on Twitter @DCgarth
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