While House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, hunts for votes to pass his two-part debt-ceiling plan, Senate leaders are quietly working to fashion a compromise plan that could emerge as a solution that both chambers can accept before an August 2 deadline set by the Treasury Department.
With the Boehner plan floundering, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., delayed floor action on his alternate plan to cut $2.7 trillion in spending over the next 10 years while raising the debt ceiling past the November 2012 election. Reid believes his hand will be strengthened by the defeat of Boehners plan, aides said, because it would force Boehner to move to a bill that could win the votes of House Democrats or to accept a Senate-passed alternative.
Discussions are "going on right now," Reid told reporters on Tuesday. "I am open to a compromise."
Reid is eyeing a procedural move to force a Thursday vote on his plan. Both sides expect that Reids plan, due to GOP opposition, would not win 60 votes without modification. It serves now as a placeholder that leadership staffers on both sides said Reid will attempt to replace with a compromise bill negotiated with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. McConnell ripped the Reid plan on Tuesday but has signaled openness to a compromise along a framework similar to Boehners.
"We cannot get a perfect outcome from my perspective controlling only the House of Representatives," McConnell said.
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Whether or not Boehners bill clears the House, lawmakers in both parties suggested the debt-ceiling endgame will involve Senate passage of a compromise measure combining parts of the Reid and Boehner plans, which would be sent to the House after Senate passage.
There are enough similarities to make a compromise between the Reid and Boehner bills possible, said Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Thune, R-S.D.
Despite optimism that Reid and McConnell can reach an agreement, however, no lawmakers or aides have identified how a compromise would bridge the basic divide between the parties. Republicans want a two-part plan where a second debt-ceiling increase early next year could occur only after enactment of matching spending cuts. Democrats, led by President Obama, might accept a two-part plan, but only if the second debt-ceiling increase can occur even if Congress does not sign off on further spending cuts. The White House said on Tuesday that Obama's advisers would recommend that he veto the Boehner plan as it stands.
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No major progress on a Senate deal is expected until after the House votes on Thursday on the Boehner plan, and until after what are likely to be several Senate votes, aides said. Votes on both the Reid and Boehner plans are possible. Democratic leadership aides asserted all 53 of their members, except Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who an aide said remains undecided, have said they would oppose the Boehner plan. Following defeat of the Boehner plan, Democrats expect McConnell will find the votes among the GOP for a fallback, one senior Democratic aide said.
Meanwhile, members of the Senate "Gang of Six," still hoping their plan to cut the deficit by $3.7 trillion over a decade will factor in a debt-ceiling deal, discussed their options with Reid on Tuesday. An aide familiar with the discussion said the gang hopes that a vote on their plan will be among sweeteners included in a compromise Senate bill to attract GOP votes. The gang plan, for example, could automatically receive a vote if a 12-member bicameral committee that both the Reid and Boehner plans would create fails to agree on recommended deficit reductions, the aide said.