House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosis Democratic Caucus is in a position where it might determine the outcome of a debt limit deal, a rare occurrence for the House minority.
Pelosi, who also spoke with Obama on Tuesday, has been guarded in showing her hand, as have all the leaders this week. But sources with knowledge of a Caucus meeting Tuesday said the California Democrat expressed an openness to Boehner bringing Reid and McConnell's Plan B to the floor and having Democrats vote in favor of it, especially if the framework is approved in a "clean" vote and without $1.5 trillion in cuts being discussed. It is unclear whether Pelosi discussed this with Boehner in their Friday meeting, however.
The tentative plan in the Senate is to file cloture on the Reid-McConnell measure Sunday night — assuming the Republican Cut, Cap and Balance Act has been cleared off the floor by the weekend — which would begin the process of getting the legislation to the president's desk. Senate leadership sources are comfortable there will be enough votes in their chamber, but the math in the House is trickier. House Republican sources said their rank and file are hesitant to approve a measure that would give the president more power.
This is where Pelosi and Hoyer would come in.
"It's a balancing thing here. This was something she would say — 'If we can't get a grand bargain and the only way to avoid default is Reid-McConnell and it comes over to the House, Democrats could help pass it,'" said one House Democratic aide familiar with Tuesday's Caucus meeting and the message Pelosi sent to her Caucus.
The aide added that Pelosi is warm to the Reid proposal of a joint commission to explore further cuts in the long term, but that in the short term, "the more cuts House Republicans insist on, however, the less House Democrats you can guarantee on the vote."
Meanwhile, Carney opened the door to a short-term deal, only to walk it back later Wednesday, saying that any short-term extension that the president would support would be for "a few days" — a seemingly untenable position given the weeks it would take to get legislative language and a Congressional Budget Office score on any grand bargain.
"So what we mean by that is we would not support a short-term extension absent an agreement to a larger deal. That's not acceptable," Carney said. "Obviously, if both sides agree to something significant, we will support the measures needed to finalize the details of that."
Republicans talked Wednesday of how Carney left space for the possibility of passing a shorter-term deal worth the approximately $1.5 trillion reportedly found in talks between Vice President Joseph Biden and lawmakers last month, with a debt ceiling extension commensurate to the cuts.
In practice, this would achieve much the same result as the first step or so of McConnell's initial proposal, which calls for a series of three votes to raise the debt limit through the 2012 elections, but without the political cover. Still, if leaders think that such a move would be a down payment on a larger deal — language that has been used since May in viewing the deficit reduction debate — and the White House gives enough wiggle room, such a deal might appear on the menu for lawmakers seeking a solution with less than two weeks to approve one.