Support surged in both parties Tuesday for a $3.7 trillion deficit reduction outline proposed by the "gang of six," but leaders warned that it might have come too late to have much effect before the Aug. 2 deadline to raise the debt ceiling.
The euphoria in the Senate was not matched in the House, where leaders and the rank and file remained laser-focused on their veto-bait Cut, Cap and Balance legislation that would condition a debt ceiling increase on passage of a controversial balanced budget constitutional amendment. The House passed that measure Tuesday evening on a largely party-line vote of 234 to 190.
The apparent breakthrough by the gang — which included surprise backing from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), encouragement from President Barack Obama and support from members of Senate Republican and Democratic leadership — came after a meeting with about 50 Senators on Tuesday morning during which the gang laid out its framework.
"I think we should put everything aside, put it in legislative language and tie it to the debt ceiling," Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said. "This is a monumental achievement of statesmanship."
But while rank-and-file Senators in both parties appeared overjoyed at the bipartisan breakthrough after months of stalemate and urged quick action, leaders poured cold water on the idea.
"It's not ready for prime time," said Majority Whip Dick Durbin, a member of the gang. The Illinois Democrat said the framework is not yet in legislative form and that it also hasn't been scored by the Congressional Budget Office, and he added there is no way to do so by Aug. 2.
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) also noted the short amount of time left.
"We only have 13 days — 13 days — and there's a number of Senators who said they'll do everything they can to stop the debt ceiling from being increased," Reid told reporters after the Democrats' weekly Conference luncheon.
Reid has been working with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on a Plan B — which is still seen as the most likely vehicle for averting a potentially catastrophic debt default.
McConnell said Tuesday that he hadn't yet decided whether he supports the gang's plan, but he applauded its goal of doing something significant on the debt.
The Reid-McConnell fallback plan would pair McConnell's plan to let the president raise the debt ceiling by $2.5 trillion in installments with some upfront cuts and a joint committee empowered to send a deficit reduction package to the House and Senate floors for a vote.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, speaks with reporters in the Capitol after a speech on the Senate floor that accused the CIA of searching computers set up for Congressional staff for their research of interrogation programs.