Deal or No Deal: As Deadline Draws Near, House and Senate Work Toward Separate Proposals

With only a week to go before the U.S. Treasury’s August 2nd deadline to raise the debt ceiling, Congress and the White House have made scant progress together – so House and Senate Leadership have decided to take matters into their own chambers, each drafting a proposal their membership might pass.  The last few days have been a whirlwind here in the Beltway with the House passing (and the Senate voting to table or kill) the Cut, Cap and Balance” Act and negotiations between Boehner and President Obama publicly falling apart at the White House.  House Speaker Boehner and Senate Leader Reid continue to talk with the President and say a grand bargain is still possible.  But the clock is ticking on a deal and leadership is feeling pressure from all sides – including the world financial markets.  Leader Reid and Speaker Boehner have both announced they are working on their own proposals to raise the debt limit and reduce the deficit in hopes of advancing legislation before the U.S. Treasury’s predicted default deadline next week.

House Speaker John Boehner ended negotiations with the White House on a “grand bargain” Friday evening, saying the revenues the President is looking for in a big deal are greater than he’s prepared to agree to, and said he would continue to work with Senate Leader Reid.  Saturday morning, House and Senate leaders of both parties were back at the White House, discussing what was achievable before August 2nd.  Talks continued amongst Congressional leaders all day Sunday and Democratic leaders returned to the White House Sunday night.  A rumored two-step framework discussed Sunday amongst Congressional leaders did not materialize and now both sides seem (at least for the moment) to be going their own way.

Speaker Boehner has released a proposal to Members for possible Monday evening consideration by the House Rules Committee, which seeks to reduce the deficit — likely in a two-tiered approach.  The idea of a short-term raise of the debt ceiling has been floating around the negotiating table for a couple of weeks, and Boehner’s expected proposal may raise the ceiling for a few months with some spending cuts now, and then task a congressional committee to find another $2-3 trillion in deficit reduction before the 2012 elections next fall.  House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi continues to be a part of the negotiations; her caucus continues to be important as some members of the Tea Party Caucus have vowed not to vote for any increase to the debt ceiling absent cuts along the lines of what was contained in the Cut, Cap, Balance Act so some number of Democrats may need to vote for Mr. Boehner’s proposal in order for it to pass the House.  Press reports indicate that Speaker Boehner held calls with his members both Saturday and Sunday, highlighting that unity amongst his conference is critical to his success in the negotiations.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has also started to put forward information on his own proposal, which may also be released today.  From the Leader’s own accounts, the package would raise the debt ceiling by $2.4 trillion (through the end of 2012) and reduce spending by $2.7 trillion.  It would not require another vote on the debt ceiling before the 2012 elections, which Democrats have opposed, and would not include any revenue measures.   Leader Reid stated yesterday he hopes instead that House Speaker Boehner will join him in compromising along the lines of his proposal.  He believes his package includes Republicans’ two major criteria: it does not include revenues and includes spending cuts to meet or exceed the amount of a debt ceiling raise through the end of 2012.  President Obama, who has been intimately involved in talks with Leadership for a month, has no negotiations on today’s schedule (so far) as the Chambers move on their own.  He has been firm that he does not support a short-term extension and that default is not an option, but for now it may be up to Leader Reid and Speaker Boehner to work out the finer points of a compromise their caucuses can vote for.

As temperatures here in DC hit record highs and debt discussions reach a boiling point, this week promises no shortage of activity for us in the Beltway.  Stay tuned to the blog – as soon as details of the different proposals surface, we’ll be looking at the implications for Medicaid, federal spending, and the Health Center Program and will pass information your way.

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