GOP Filibusters Debt Limit Hike As Anxieties Flare Over Default

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sen. John Thune (R-SD) take questions from reporters.
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Senate Republicans blocked a debt ceiling extension from advancing on Saturday, bringing the country one step closer to a catastrophic debt default.

The motion to proceed to the Democrats’ bill received 53 votes in favor and 45 against, falling short of the 60 needed to begin debate. Every Republican senator voted to filibuster it. The bill would have raised the debt limit until the end of 2014 with no policy add-ons.

“A few extremist Republicans … too radical to compromise, could force a default on the nation’s financial obligations for the first time ever,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). “What I see staring us in the face is not a pleasant picture.”

After rejecting a House GOP proposal, Reid shot down an offer by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) to resolve the impasse, and has initiated talks with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Reid, McConnell, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) met Saturday morning to begin new discussions, according to a source familiar with the matter.

“We want a better [continuing resolution] and longer debt ceiling and don’t view those as concessions,” said a Senate Democratic leadership aide.

Tensions are flaring between House and Senate Republicans over how to defuse the crisis ahead of an Oct. 17 debt ceiling deadline. House GOP members expressed concerns during a private Saturday meeting that the Senate GOP would undercut and jam them by striking a deal with President Barack Obama that conservatives dislike.

The House GOP framework, pushed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), would raise the borrowing limit for six weeks while replacing across-the-board spending cuts (known as sequestration) with cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits. It would also set up formal negotiations to resolve spending disputes and address the next debt limit increase. But the White House and Democratic leaders have rebuffed that approach. “That’s over with. It’s done,” Reid said of White House talks with the House GOP. “They’re not talking anymore.”

For Senate Republicans, the focus has been on the draft proposal by Collins to extend the debt limit through the end of the year and reopen the government for six months in exchange for a two-year delay of Obamacare’s medical device tax and granting flexibility to government agencies when it comes implementing sequestration cuts. The plan is opposed by House conservatives and has now been shot down by Senate Democratic leaders.

“We need Senate Republicans to stand up and stand firm,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) told GOP members, according to a source in the room.

“They’re trying to cut the House out, and trying to jam us with the Senate,” a fired-up Ryan told reporters after the GOP meeting. “We’re not going to roll over and take that.”

Meanwhile, Democrats are leaking concerns of their own that Obama may back down on his refusal to grant the GOP concessions before they agree to end the government shutdown and avert default. “I do fear the White House is up to something bad,” a Democratic leadership aide told the Huffington Post. “[Obama] says over and over, ‘I won’t negotiate’, but we know he loves to cave.”

Reid has been the enforcer of the steely Democratic resolve against Republican hostage-taking during the shutdown and coming debt limit breach.

“It is really so sad what’s happened to our country,” he said on the Senate floor. “Defaulting on our debt would risk millions of American jobs. … Social Security checks would likely be halted, Medicare payments and even paychecks for our troops wouldn’t happen.”

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