Are Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell new best friends? Somehow, I wouldn't bet on it, but the respective Senate Majority and Senate Minority leaders did have a pow-wow this afternoon. Bloomberg reports:
Before the White House negotiating session, the fifth in as many days, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky were engaged in their own talks on an option to avoid a default, Reid confirmed to reporters today.
Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the chamber's third- ranking Democratic leader, said while Democrats still want to see a comprehensive deal emerge from White House-led talks, they are considering modifying a plan McConnell offered earlier this week as a "last-choice" alternative.
McConnell's proposal would grant Obama authority to raise the debt limit in installments unless Congress disapproves by a two-thirds majority -- a near impossibility with the Senate controlled by Democrats -- while Obama would also be required to offer spending reductions.
Those cuts would be advisory, and the debt-ceiling increase would occur regardless of whether lawmakers enact the cuts, McConnell said. The idea drew criticism from both sides of the aisle, particularly from Republicans who said it would fail to curb spending.
It seems that, with a few additional changes, the McConnell 'escape hatch' plan is an option that lead lawmakers believe Democrats could get behind. If that's the case, I'm highly suspicious that the Republicans won't be queuing up to do so.
Don't look now, but Mitch McConnell's plan to transfer ownership of the debt ceiling to the President has quietly gained serious legitimacy among top Democrats. They now see it as an active plan B.
"Some version of it is definitely the plan B if these larger discussions don't pan out," a senior Senate Democratic aide tells me.
Democrats see McConnell's proposal as a key opening, largely because it constitutes an acknowledgment on McConnell's part that the debt ceiling must be lifted — a display of urgency that from the point of view of Dems has been alarmingly lacking in other Republicans.
The package being forged in the newfound Reid-McConnell partnership would likely not include spending cuts nearly large enough to satisfy Republicans, but nor would include tax hikes, reports the WSJ:
The so-called Plan B is taking shape in quiet discussions between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) and Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), away from unhappy House Republicans who don't favor the approach.
It would link a package of spending cuts to a plan Mr. McConnell proposed earlier this week that would give the president the power to raise the debt limit through 2012 in three installments, unless two-thirds of Congress voted to block it. It likely would not include any tax increases, a senior Democratic aide familiar with the discussions said.
Later in the day, top lawmakers emerged from another no-dice budget meeting (during which House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was reportedly silent - feeling sheepish, or stoic?). And, best of all, President Obama is scheduled to deliver yet another condescending, ideological lecture - oops, I mean informative news conference - on Friday at 11:00 a.m. I wonder what new and exciting parent-to-naughty-child metaphors we'll glean this time? Tune into @KatiePavlich and @erikajohnsen on Twitter at the (appointed? anointed?) hour - you can usually count on us to tweet our raptures of The One.