US Senate 'closing in' on deal to avoid catastrophic default
Senate leaders say 'tremendous progress' has been made on deal to end shutdown and raise debt ceiling
THE US Senate is "closing in" on an agreement to raise the debt ceiling and end the two-week-old government shutdown, the Washington Post reports.
With the clock ticking down to Thursday's deadline to raise the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling or face a disastrous default, Senate leaders have expressed optimism that a deal being brokered in closed-door meetings on Capitol Hill can be passed by Congress.
Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid told the chamber last night: "We've made tremendous progress. We hope with good fortune... perhaps tomorrow will be a bright day. We're not there yet."
The Washington Post says the deal under consideration would extend the Treasury Department's borrowing authority until 7 February, reopen the government and fund federal agencies until mid-January. That would buy Congress breathing space and allow policymakers to start a new round of talks over "broader budget issues".
Significantly, the deal proposes only "minor changes" to President Obama's signature health-care law (aka Obamacare) and falls "well short of defunding it or delaying major provisions as conservative Republicans initially sought," the Post says. Indeed the only concession to Obamacare's enemies is new safeguards ensuring that those who receive federal subsidies to buy health insurance are eligible to receive them.
Even if a budget bill is agreed in the Senate, it will still need to pass the House of Representatives, the BBC says. It is likely to meet "fierce resistance" in the lower House – the chamber where the current deadlock started two weeks ago – with hardline Republicans still insisting they won't compromise.
It is already clear, theNew York Times reports, that "the most conservative members of the House are not going to go along quietly with a plan that does not accomplish their goal from the outset of this two-week-old crisis: dismantling the President's health care law".
One of those hardliners, Republican congressman for Kansas, Tim Huelskamp, told the paper: "We've got a name for it in the House: it's called the Senate surrender caucus. Anybody who would vote for that in the House as Republican would virtually guarantee a primary challenger."
The BBC's North American editor Mark Mardell says if an eleventh hour deal is done, it will likely be celebrated as "American democracy doing its job – raw and messy but vibrant, forcing compromise where there was none to be had". ·