On Saturday morning Oct. 12, 2013, the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives handed over responsibility to the Republicans in the Senate to push forward a plan to end the 12-day old shutdown and raise the debt ceiling limit, after President Barack Obama refused the House's latest plan after over a day of negotiations. The Senate Republicans then commenced negotiations with Senate Democrats, who again met with the President in the afternoon. However, the Senate Democrats plan to raise the debt ceiling limit failed to pass, without Republican support.
The Senate Democratic proposal, which would have raised the debt ceiling for 15 months until the end of Dec. 2014 failed to pass a procedural vote 53 to 45 on Saturday, Oct. 12. The proposal needed six Republican votes, and 60 votes in total to pass, and could not garner them. President Obama had been disappointed the bill he favored could not pass. Senate Republicans are in a difficult place trying to present a proposal that would pass the Democratic Senate, the Republican House, where they are still looking for a bill to reopen the government that would include provisions reigning in the healthcare law or spending.
The Republicans in the Senate had been working on a bill based on a proposal by moderate Republican Susan Collins, R-ME, who has devised a compromise solution that would end the shutdown by funding the government for six-months, raise the debt limit until January, delay the medical device tax for two years, require anybody receiving Obamacare subsidies to prove their income and allow agencies to determine how to allocate the sequester spending cuts.
The Maine Senator is now working Democrat Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. in an attempt at a bipartisan bill that would gain Democratic support. Sen. Collins speaking on her plan on Friday stated; "I believe that still gives us plenty of leverage to work out a long-term fiscal plan, but it removes the threat of an immediate default."
Senate Majority Leader Reid already stated he would refuse the deal, although the Republicans are trying still to press for it. Reid responding to Collins' proposal, stated; "I appreciate her efforts as always to find a consensus, but the plan that she's suggested that I've seen in writing is not going to go anyplace at this stage. They're not doing (Democrats) a favor by reopening the government. They're not doing us a favor by extending the debt ceiling. That's part of our jobs." While the White House official said the President objects to the amount of sequester spending cuts, but he would consider delaying the medical devices tax.
The President met again with Democratic Senate leadership Saturday afternoon, Oct. 12 at the White House for the second time this week for a meeting that lasted 75 minutes and began at 3:30 p.m., but no details were leaked out. While in the morning, Senate leadership from both parties met at 9 a.m. to open discussions. The meeting was attended by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. The meeting was also attended by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
Sen. McConnell was the one that approached Reid for the meeting, in 2011 when the country faced a potential shutdown and then default, McConnell had been a key voice of reason in negotiations. Sen. Reid speaking to press described their meeting, saying; "The conversations were extremely cordial but very preliminary of course. I hope that our talking is some solace to the American people and to the world. This hasn't happened until now. This should be seen as something very positive."
The Senate Republicans were the last group to meet with President Obama at the White House on Friday, Oct 11. Sen. Collins speaking to the press after the meeting said; "It was a good exchange but it was an inconclusive exchange…. He may not want to call it a negotiation. That's what I would call it and I do view that as progress." Although she also indicated that Obama did not specify what kind of proposal he would agree to.
Republican Senators reaction to the meeting was that they were pleased and relieved that the President is finally having discussions with Congress and especially Republicans about the shutdown and debt ceiling. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY told reporters; "I think we had a very useful meeting with the president. He spent a lot of time with us, and interacted with our members and now we're back here to actually work on trying to get a solution on a bipartisan basis."
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney speaking at the daily press briefing on Friday, Oct 11 stated, "We're listening and we're talking," and that Obama is "willing to look at any proposal."
House leadership had a meeting on Saturday morning Oct. 12, where they decided they could not come up with alternate proposal that would please the President after he rejected the House's latest proposal. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor afterwards told the press; "I'm disappointed that the president has rejected the offer that we put on the table. I know that he's trying to see which Republican senator he can pick off in the Senate. I hope that the Senate Republicans stand strong so we can speak with one voice."
The House members presented a refined proposal at their meeting with the President, which was essentially a clean debt ceiling bill coupled with the Obama's pledge to negotiate on spending cuts and tax reform. The plan guaranteed the government would not default on their loans with the deadline pushed back from Oct. 17 to Nov. 22. However, the plan did not include a solution to end the government shutdown, only stating a plan would made after the debt ceiling short-term extension was agreed upon. The President refused the deal, because the House GOP did not include a plan to reopen the government.
The President and Republican House agreed to continue discussions after their White House meeting, even after Obama refused their debt plan. On Friday afternoon, Oct. 11 the President again spoke with Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH, promising to keep the lines of communication open. Many believed it would lead to end of the impasse by the end of the weekend, and that a deal was in sight. After over a day of negotiations, however, they were unable to come to an agreement.
The government has been partially shutdown since the new fiscal year began on Oct. 1. The debt ceiling of $16.7 trillion will also reach its limit on Oct. 17, without passing a bill to raise the debt ceiling limit the U.S. will default on its loans.
At the core of the conflict is the Democratic Senate and President Obama wanting a "clean bill," a stop-gap spending bill referred to as a Continuing Resolution (CR) without out any provisions attached. The President has also been insisting on a clean bill to raise the debt ceiling limit, although he is now open to a short term debt raise as long as there are no strings attached.
While the Republican controlled House of Representatives at this point primarily want the individual mandate provision of Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act delayed in a bill reopening the government, allowing Americans the option to maintain their present healthcare coverage without any penalties imposed.
Approximately 800,000 federal employees are furloughed as a result of the shutdown out of 2 million, and will also affect all aspects of the government at a time when the fragile economy is just starting to recover.
There have been a total of 17 prior government shutdowns in American history between the 1970s and 1990s with the December-January, 1995-1996 shutdown being the longest clocking in at 21 days. Then as now a Democratic President Bill Clinton was in a fierce ideological battle with a Republican House of Representatives.
With talks failing between the House and Obama, and the President's still hostile and blaming rhetoric in his weekly address, even if he is doing Congressional Republicans a favor by meeting and speaking with them, he is not truly negotiating with them, it is more public relations to ensure he does get blamed by the American public. Negotiations implies compromise, President Obama is not compromising and giving in at all for the greater good of making a deal to save the economy.
Negotiations in the Senate are the last hope at ending these crises, unless President Obama agrees to any of the House's many proposals. The Senate leaders, who until now did speak together about the issue, need to find a bipartisan solution, with compromises. However, Senate Majority Leader Reid for the most part takes on the President's position, and he has already rejected Collins-Manchin plan in its first proposal form, and his plan failed. If the Senate does not step up before Oct. 17, the U.S. will face its first default in history, leading to a dire situation for the American and global economy.
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.