Senate Nears Shutdown, Default Deal Though Hurdles Remain

But Reid held out for, and succeeded in getting, a January deadline. Congressional Democrats have been hoping to negate the impact of sequestration, substantial budget cuts in both domestic and defense programs as called for in the Budget Control Act of 2011. The next round of sequestration cuts – amounting to $20 billion -- are scheduled to take effect in January. Reid wants ample time to address the sequestration issue – longer than six weeks – but adopting the Collins proposal probably would have seen the cuts implemented before a budget deal could be reached, rendering it almost impossible to change course.

Still, it remains unclear if any deal reached in the Senate will be embraced by the Republican-controlled House, which has taken a much harder line than its Senate brethren in pushing for concessions in return for their support of a continuing resolution and a debt ceiling hike. The task of coming up with a plan was only left to the Senate when the House and Obama were unable to strike a bargain after several fitful attempts.

Should an agreement be reached in the Senate and a bill passed on to the lower chamber, the focus will immediately shift to Boehner who ultimately will decide how the package should be addressed.

Boehner has frequently maintained that a bill that doesn’t provide Republicans with some dispensation – lower spending levels, significant changes in Obamacare – will not make it through the House. He has instituted what is familiarly known as the Hastert rule after former House Speaker Denny Hastert, an Illinois Republican – only legislation that attracts the majority of the GOP caucus will be considered on the floor.

House Republicans won’t conduct a whip count until the Senate finalizes its package but it’s likely to attract more Democratic than Republican votes in the lower chamber. It will be left up to Boehner on how to proceed – he can, among other things, quickly bring it to the floor for a vote, amend it and send it back to the Senate or reject it and call for a time-consuming conference committee.

If he ditches the Hastert rule, which likely would expedite the process, the speaker will almost assuredly feel heat from his right flank with some Tea Party lawmakers calling for his ouster.

Initially House Republicans demanded a defunding of Obamacare in return for their support of a continuing resolution. The White House and Reid balked, leading to a partial government shutdown on Oct. 1 – the beginning of the new federal fiscal year.

Over the intervening days, the GOP has shifted tactics, first altering their ultimatum by simply seeking as year-long postponement of the healthcare law’s implementation. That also was rejected by Obama. Ultimately, the House abandoned its attack on the Affordable Care Act, completely, instead pushing for additional spending cuts. To this point their requests have fallen on deaf Democratic ears.

A vote in the Senate could be delayed if enough lawmakers get in the way, forming a filibuster to block a tally. Lawmakers will need 60 votes in the 100-member chamber to proceed. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who has led the fight to defund Obamacare and seek additional White House concessions, hasn’t disclosed how he intends to proceed.