Little Progress As Both Sides Call For Movement

There are five days left until the government hits the deadline on raising the debt limit, and the government is still in shutdown mode. Host Arun Rath talks to NPR's David Welna about maneuvers on Capitol Hill Saturday that produced little apparent progress.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.

On Capitol Hill today, both the House and Senate were in session as lawmakers struggled to end the impasse that has shut down parts of the federal government since the new fiscal year began 12 days ago. Adding to the urgency is Treasury's warning that if Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling, the U.S. could default on its bills for the first time ever starting next Thursday.

Joining me from the Capitol where he's been following the scramble to end this standoff is NPR congressional correspondent David Welna. Hi, David.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Hi, Arun.

RATH: So here we are again. This is the second Saturday in a row that Congress has been meeting. Any progress to report?

WELNA: Well, not a lot of progress, but perhaps some. There were some new developments here today. One involved House Republicans who, ever since the shutdown began, have been sitting on a Senate bill that has no strings attached to it that would immediately reopen the government, but they haven't done anything with it. Those Republicans basically threw in the towel today and said it's now up to the Senate to find a way out of this wilderness. That was after the White House last night rejected a House GOP plan that would have extended the debt ceiling for six weeks but would have left the government closed.

And meanwhile, Senate Republican Mitch McConnell this morning contacted the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. And for the first time since this crisis began, the two of them sat down and talked for an hour, along with Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander and the number three Senate Democrat, New York's Charles Schumer. And Reid told reporters afterwards that they still have a long way to go.

SENATOR HARRY REID: The conversations were extremely cordial but very preliminary, of course. Nothing conclusive, but I hope that our talking is some solace to the American people and to the world. This hasn't happened until now. Senator McConnell asked to meet with me. I was happy to do that.

WELNA: And Reid added that he does think that McConnell is serious about avoiding any possibility of a debt default next week.

RATH: So if they're talking, is it possible we could hear some proposals coming from the Senate side of the Capitol?

WELNA: Well, there are some proposals. In a party-line vote today, Senate Republicans blocked a Democratic proposal that would have suspended the debt ceiling until 2015. And Senate Democrats rejected a plan put forward by main Republican Susan Collins. It would have extended borrowing authority only until the end of next January while it would reopen the government right away. And Democrats said that bill would only lead to one more crisis.

There are several other plans floating around as well, and Democratic leaders have trooped over to the White House for more talks there. And the Senate does plan to meet again tomorrow afternoon, even though the House appears to have called it quits for this weekend.

RATH: Well, finally, David, the million-dollar question: What's it going to take to get a deal now?

WELNA: Well, Arun, you know, Democrats think they have the upper hand in this struggle and - so they're not budging from their insistence that the government be reopened and the debt ceiling raised with absolutely no strings attached. Republicans, meanwhile, are getting plastered in public opinion polls, and a lot of them are kind of desperate to end this impasse. But they'll need something to save face if they relent. And just what that is, I think, is the subject of a lot of bipartisan conversations that have finally begun here.

RATH: That's NPR's David Welna speaking from the Capitol. Thanks, David.

WELNA: You're welcome, Arun.

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