House Waits For Details On Senate Bipartisan Proposal

With the debt ceiling deadline looming just two days away, Senate leaders say they're close to a deal that would reopen the government and avert default. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have been leading bipartisan talks on a way out of the deadlock. Even if a bipartisan agreement clears the Senate, it will likely be a hard sell to House Republicans.

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Senate leaders say they are close to solving two problems at once. A deal that seems in reach would re-open the government and avoid the U.S. defaulting on its debt. The deadline to raise the debt limit is now just two days away.

INSKEEP: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have been leading bipartisan talks seeking to end the deadlock. They say they are optimistic about putting together a plan that both parties can accept at least in their chamber.

GREENE: Now this would likely only be a short-term fix, setting up more confrontations soon. And as NPR's Ailsa Chang reports, even if this deal passes the Senate, it might be a hard sell in the Republican-dominated House.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: The top Democrat and top Republican in the Senate have spent the last few months trading lots of testy jabs. But over the last three days, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell have been eager to present a united duo. By the time the Senate closed Monday evening, Reid wanted to assure members progress was being made.

SENATOR HARRY REID: We're doing our best to make everybody happy, but everyone knows we're not going to be able to do that. So everybody understand we're doing the very best we can with all the frailties that we have as people and legislators.

CHANG: According to reports, the plan that would lift the debt limit through February 7th and fund the government through January 15. The proposal would also set up a framework for formal budget discussions on issues like tax reform and cutting entitlement spending. Even some Republican senators, who say they're likely going to vote against raising the debt ceiling, aren't threatening to block the deal from proceeding to a vote. Like Rand Paul of Kentucky.

SENATOR RAND PAUL: No, I think we need to get an agreement and open the government back up.

CHANG: The same kind of promise couldn't be extracted from another Republican senator - Ted Cruz, who was the main architect behind the plan to use a government shutdown as leverage against the Affordable Care Act.

SENATOR TED CRUZ: We have to wait and see what the details are.

CHANG: Is he disappointed the deal won't defund or delay Obamacare?

CRUZ: We'll have to wait to see what the details are.

CHANG: Is he under pressure from his party not to block the deal?

CRUZ: We'll have to wait to see what the details are.

CHANG: Well, that seemed to be the mantra on the House side of things as well, where many Republicans remained coy about whether they'd support the Senate agreement. Like Pete Sessions of Texas.

REPRESENTATIVE PETE SESSIONS: The update is that as soon as we see something in writing, then we'll understand how we can thoughtfully understand what we'll do with it.

CHANG: But for the stalwart Republicans who have been determined to cripple the health care law, the Senate deal won't do enough devastation to Obamacare. The proposal will likely require tighter income verification for people who get health care subsidies, but Tim Huelskamp of Kansas says that's nowhere near adequate.

REPRESENTATIVE TIM HUELSKAMP: When you're given 98, 99 percent of Obamacare, I don't see how that would ever pass over here, if it even passes the Senate.

CHANG: And as the days rapidly melt away before a debt ceiling breach, John Fleming of Louisiana says House Republicans are not feeling the time pressure.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN FLEMING: I don't think it has anything to do with it for the vast majority of Republicans. As you can see, we're down, how long, two weeks now into this? And we're working to re-open government as quickly as we can, but you know, for us, it's important to get government right.

CHANG: So Fleming is waiting to see just how explicitly the Senate proposal promises a negotiation on broader budget issues. The White House and Senate Democrats have repeatedly said that larger conversation will not happen until the government re-opens and the debt ceiling is raised.

Ailsa Chang, NPR News, the Capitol.

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