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Reid Hopes to Warm Senate GOP to His Debt Plan

Tom Williams/Roll Call

Updated: 10:38 p.m.

Senate Republicans on Monday dismissed a new budget proposal from Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that would exchange $2.7 trillion in spending cuts for an extension of the debt ceiling through 2013, but Democrats hope they can prove that their offering is the only viable option by week’s end.

Reid and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) unveiled dueling debt ceiling proposals Monday, just more than a week ahead of the Treasury’s projected default date. Although both parties accused the other of presenting “non-starters,” no one was willing to concede that lawmakers would not make their deadline, creating a mess that’s part politics, part procedure and part posturing.

“There was a debate over whether it was just smoke and mirrors or whether it was blue smoke and mirrors. It’s not a real proposal,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said about Reid’s plan on his way out of a Senate Republican Conference meeting Monday to review the options.

Despite mass GOP discontent with the Reid proposal — freshman Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire called it “totally insufficient” — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) refrained from offering a flat-out rejection in his remarks on the floor earlier in the day.

Reid, Boehner and McConnell had been working over the weekend on a plan, from which the Speaker’s proposal loosely draws. Although the Boehner and Reid plans differ in their timelines — House Republicans are not ready to extend the debt ceiling through the 2012 elections as President Barack Obama has asked — there are still similarities between the two offerings, such as $1.2 trillion in discretionary spending cuts over the next 10 years. It was not immediately clear, however, whether those cuts would come from the same programs and agencies.

Obama and Boehner traded blame for the stalemate in separate televised appeals to the nation Monday night. Obama accused Republicans of playing a “dangerous game” that risks a debt default in a week. But Boehner, following the president, said that Obama created the “crisis atmosphere” surrounding the debt ceiling and that it would be resolved if the Senate adopts his plan and the president signs it.

In perhaps a small signal of strategy from Senate Democrats, Reid introduced his plan on the floor Monday without formally filing cloture. Doing so likely would have brought a Senate vote Wednesday, the same day the House is set to vote on Boehner’s provision.

By waiting, Senate Democrats will see whether Boehner is able to corral enough votes from his own Conference to send his measure to the Senate. Dozens of conservative House Members have already expressed opposition to his legislation, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said they did not support it.

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