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Senate Leaders Await Fate of House Debt Deal

Bill Clark/Roll Call

Senate Democrats are positioned to be the last ones with control over the legislative vehicle that could avert a default on the nation’s debt, as uncertainty hangs today over Speaker John Boehner’s
(R-Ohio) ability to pass his own bill through the House.

The ambiguity of the situation, however, had Senators casting about for ways to make sure they are not left shouldering the blame for a default and the serious economic consequences projected by the markets, ratings agencies and top economic officials.

“I had this feeling like this was going to be like this game [of] ‘hot potato’ ... and whoever was left holding the hot potato when we get to next Monday was going to have to eat it because the alternative would be default and disaster for our economy. So watch the hot potato and see if it moves,” Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said Tuesday.

Since Sunday, the House and the Senate have been on dueling tracks to raise the debt limit by the Aug. 2 deadline, when the Treasury Department says the U.S. will run out of money to service the debt and keep the government operating. The two paths Republican and Democratic leaders are pursuing, though, are more similar than they are different, and they appear to be on a course to collide with each other late this week as lawmakers rush to devise a final compromise.

On Tuesday, both parties and chambers continued their posturing, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) saying Boehner’s plan was “dead on arrival in the Senate” and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) saying Reid’s offering “should be defeated.” But McConnell refused to say outright whether his Conference would band together to filibuster the Reid plan. Plus, Republicans asserted that the White House only issued a recommendation to veto the Boehner proposal, not a flat-out veto threat.

“There are two key parts of both the Boehner and the Reid proposals that are exactly the same — $1.2 trillion in real cuts and spending and this very important committee that can open the door to revenue reform and entitlement reform,” Lieberman, who caucuses with Democrats, said. He noted that neither plan right now has the votes to clear the Senate.

The Boehner and Reid proposals include about $1 trillion in discretionary spending savings, though the Senate framework includes military cuts. And both measures also establish a 12-Member bipartisan joint committee that would be charged with producing a plan to cut at least $1.8 trillion more. As of Tuesday, the main sticking point remains the length of the debt limit extension, with Democrats demanding the ceiling be lifted until 2013 and Republicans wanting a two-step process.

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