A budget plan from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to raise the debt ceiling by $2.4 trillion, which Democrats have called "the last train out of the station" to avert default, appeared in peril Saturday — just three days out from the Treasury's deadline.
Forty-three Senate Republicans sent a letter to the Nevada Democrat on Saturday saying they could not support his budget plan to raise the debt ceiling by Tuesday's deadline, shortly before House Republicans planned a symbolic vote on the measure. Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell engaged in a lengthy political sparring match on the Senate floor, arguing about everything from the nature of negotiations that died last week to the definition of a filibuster.
Most striking about the exchange, however, was McConnell's adamancy that Reid's plan was going nowhere, even after it had been amended Friday to include a mechanism devised earlier this month by the Kentucky Republican himself that would raise the debt ceiling in a series of three votes and shift the political burden of doing so to Democrats.
"I want to disabuse my friend of the notion that somehow [his plan] is going to pass," McConnell said to Reid on the floor. "The measure ... is not acceptable to the Senate, is not acceptable to the House, will not pass.
"Let's get to talking to the administration again in the hopes that we can get together behind something that can pass both the Senate and the House and be signed into law before Tuesday," McConnell continued.
Talks with President Barack Obama broke down last week after Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) backed away from a tenuous, $3 trillion "grand bargain" two Fridays ago and the four top Congressional leaders huddled at the White House on Saturday, with the president tasking the lawmakers with the responsibility of coming together and finding any plan that might be able to clear Congress.
So far, that haul has been heavier than expected. Boehner needed an extra 24 hours to approve his own budget offering, actively and painfully whipping each and every last vote to send his bill to the Senate. Meanwhile, leaders in the Senate were put in a holding pattern as the House votes stalled, shortening the clock for Senators already bound by time-consuming rules that could push final passage votes on any plan to Monday at the earliest, but more likely Tuesday, if then.
The letter from the 43 Republicans — not signed by GOP Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Scott Brown (Mass.), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Susan Collins (Maine) — expressed the opposition of the majority of the Conference to Reid's offering, a position they believed would be bolstered by the House votes.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.