WASHINGTON: Congressional negotiations to end a US fiscal crisis that has gripped Washington and spooked financial markets hung by a thread yesterday after they broke down in the House of Representatives and were in preliminary stages in the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, laid down tough markers not long after he held an initial session with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, leaving some doubt over whether the two men can reach an agreement to end a partial government shutdown now in its 12th day. “We need to have compromise but we are not going to do that until the government reopens and we pay our bills,” Reid warned. Immediately after his news conference, Reid and other Senate Democratic leaders rushed to the White House for meetings with President Barack Obama.
Lawmakers are scrambling to put hundreds of thousands of federal employees back to work after their failure to fund the government resulted in a partial shutdown on Oct 1. They also are staring down a Thursday deadline, when the Treasury Department has warned the United States could default on its debt for the first time in history unless the nation’s borrowing limit is raised by then.
Mindful of the debt limit deadline, Reid told reporters he would like to cut a deal “now.” “When I say ‘now,’ I mean in the next 48 hours,” he said. Senator Dick Durbin said the goal is to reach a bipartisan deal in the Senate before financial markets reopen tomorrow. But the road to a deal appeared difficult, as Reid dismissed Republican Senator Susan Collins’ plan to extend the US debt limit until January 31 and to fund the government for another six months. That plan had given some moderate lawmakers hopes for a quick deal, but Democrats said it was saddled with too many objectionable add-ons.
The “preliminary” Reid-McConnell negotiations — at 9am yesterday in Reid’s office — were launched one day after Obama rejected a proposal by House Republicans for a short-term increase in the debt limit to November 22. REUTERS