UPDATE: GOP senator says deal in hand to avoid default

9:28 AM, Oct 16, 2013   |    comments
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Susan Davis, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON - Congress was heading toward a climactic resolution Wednesday to reopen the federal government after a 16-day partial shutdown as well as avert an unprecedented debt default.


House and Senate leaders were negotiating how to maneuver a package through both chambers and get it to President Obama's desk before the Oct. 17 deadline to raise the debt ceiling. However, there was an air of certainty on Capitol Hill that a formal deal was at hand between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Senate Republicans were meeting Wednesday morning to discuss the package before it is formally announced.

Senate leaders were on track to unveil a narrow package that includes a stopgap measure that funds the government through Jan. 15, a suspension of the debt ceiling until Feb. 7, and a framework for formal budget negotiations to begin. Negotiators are tasked with reporting out by Dec. 13 recommendations for longer-term spending levels and deficit reduction.

Senate leaders reasserted control of negotiations after House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, failed Tuesday to corral GOP lawmakers behind a competing budget proposal.

The shutdown and debt ceiling fight has been politically bruising for the GOP. The battle began when House Republicans tried repeatedly to attach measures to a stopgap funding bill that would delay or defund President Obama's healthcare law. Those efforts were rejected by the White House and Senate Democrats.

Republicans then sought to roll the shutdown fight into the next budget deadline to raise the debt ceiling.

Initially, House GOP leaders were seeking a broad package of spending cuts and financial reforms to raise the $16.7 trillion debt limit. But House Republicans never put forward the plan, and the lack of direction exposed cracks between House Republicans and their Senate counterparts, who voiced increasing frustrations about the strategy.

A series of public opinion polls in the past two weeks showed the Republican Party tanking in popularity, which Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called "devastating."

In recent days, Reid and McConnell began bipartisan talks to find a way out of the impasse, but McConnell put the brakes on the talks when Boehner again attempted to advance a GOP alternative. When Boehner failed Tuesday, Reid and McConnell quickly resumed talks late Tuesday. Each leader offered public assurances that a deal could be reached in time.

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