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POLITICS: PennAve

White House sits back as Senate inches toward deal

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Politics,White House,Congress,Barack Obama,Obamacare,Republican Party,Democratic Party,Harry Reid,Mitch McConnell,Health Care,PennAve,Susan Crabtree,Chuck Schumer,Budgets and Deficits,Government Shutdown

Senate Democrats and the White House insisted they would not negotiate with Republicans on broader budget issues until after the government is reopened and the debt ceiling raised.

But Democrats have opened the door to possible concessions on fiscal matters and Obamacare as senators work to hammer out an agreement ahead of an Oct. 17 deadline for raising the nation's borrowing limit.

The White House has been careful not to portray any talks as a negotiation, insisting that they are not giving up anything in exchange for raising the debt limit, even as discussions between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., intensify.

President Obama and Reid have pounded home the “no negotiations” stance for the past two weeks since the shutdown began to gain leverage on the GOP.

The White House says Obama is “listening and talking” to Republicans, but insists any discussions are not a true negotiation.

But even as Democrats maintained their tough public stance, Reid reached out to McConnell over the weekend to work toward an agreement.

On Monday afternoon, both sides were expressing “optimism” that they were close to an agreement, and the White House cancelled a scheduled meeting between the president and congressional leaders to allow the Senate more time to hash out a solution.

Reid on Monday privately offered McConnell a deal that would reopen the government until mid-to-late December while extending the debt ceiling until next year.

McConnell's office said “good-faith negotiations” were continuing.

“We have an opportunity over the last couple of days to have some very constructive exchanges of views about how to move forward,” McConnell said. “Those discussions continue, and I share [the] optimism that we're going to get a result that will be acceptable to both sides.”

The talks between the two Senate leaders began Saturday morning after efforts by the House GOP to craft a deal raising the debt ceiling fell short with the White House.

President Obama in his weekly address again said that the GOP could quickly end the standoff by raising the debt limit and reopening government.

But at a presser early Saturday, Reid said Senate budget talks were underway and described his GOP counterpart, McConnell, as a reasonable negotiating partner.

“We've done things for a long time together,” Reid said of the Republican leader.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who attended a Saturday morning meeting with Reid, McConnell and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. said the talks gave him a “little bit of cause for optimism” and praised the minority leader for showing “good will.”

Next to the podium at the Democratic press conference, though, was a large sign that read: “Open the government, pay our bills, and let's negotiate.”

Later Saturday, the White House appeared to put the kibosh on any forward progress if it meant making even one compromise before the government reopened and the nation's borrowing limit was raised.

But after a White House meeting between President Obama and Senate Democrats on Saturday, a leadership aide said talks between Reid and Senate Republicans would continue over the next few days, but refused to elevate those conversations to the status of actual negotiations.

"The President and the leaders agreed that talks between Senate Democratic and Senate Republican leaders should continue in the coming days, but Democrats' position remains the same: Democrats are willing to negotiate on anything Republicans want to discuss as soon as we reopen the government and pay our bills," the aide said.

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Susan Crabtree

White House Correspondent
The Washington Examiner