Believing they have Republicans backed into a corner on the debt ceiling increase, Democrats are pressing their advantage by refusing to grant any concessions to Senate Republicans while seeking to raise spending levels in the budget bill that would put an effective end to the sequester.
Senate Democrats reasserted themselves Saturday in the government funding and debt-ceiling debate after talks between Obama and House Republicans collapsed the previous day.
After Obama gave House Republicans reason on Thursday to hope for concessions, Senate Democrats reined those expectations back.
They do not intend to grant Senate Republicans any significant victories in exchange for opening the government or increasing borrowing authority, dimming the possibility of a deal before stock markets open Monday.
Senate Democrats rejected a proposal sponsored by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), which many Senate Republicans hoped could lay the groundwork for a deal.
“It is not going anyplace at this stage,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters. “Number one, it opens the government; number two, it extends the debt ceiling. But other than that there is little agreement with us.”
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee, told Collins on the Senate floor the proposal was unacceptable because it would lock in federal spending for six months at the levels set by the House GOP, according to a source familiar with the conversation.
Senate Democrats instead want to craft a budget deal that would eliminate the so-called sequestration levels.
Senate Republicans warn Reid will face a public backlash if he refuses to seriously consider what they consider a pragmatic offer from Collins.
“If they reject a good-faith offer and everybody in the middle would define Collins as a good-faith offer, then the charade that they’re negotiating would fall apart,” said a Senate GOP aide.
The Collins plan would fund the government at an annual rate of $986 billion for six months; extend the debt limit until Jan. 31, 2014; delay the medical device tax for two years and provide federal agencies greater flexibility to manage spending levels under sequestration.
It would also set up an income verification process to prevent fraud in the healthcare insurance exchanges and convene bicameral budget talks with an end-date of Jan. 15, 2014.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) dismissed a six-month stopgap at House GOP funding levels.
Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) suggested a deal could hinge on getting Republicans to agree to higher funding levels for fiscal year 2014.
“It has to get down to this budget number,” he said.
It’s significant that Reid has rejected every single Republican proposal for ending the stand-off. It’s obvious he feels no need to negotiate seriously with Senator McConnell and will all but dictate the terms of the GOP surrender.
Democrats view funding government and raising the debt-ceiling as congressional responsibilities that do not merit concessions.
“They’re not doing us any favor by reopening the government. They’re not doing us a favor by extending the debt ceiling. That’s part of our jobs,” Reid told reporters.
That does not sound like a man about to compromise.