U.S. Congress Urgently Works With White House to End Fiscal Deadlock

After weeks of unproductive ultimatums, President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans are exploring whether they can end a budget standoff that has triggered a partial government shutdown and edged Washington to the verge of a historic, economy-jarring federal default on its loan.

The two sides planned to continue discussions Friday, a day after Obama and top administration officials met for 90 minutes with House Speaker John Boehner and other House GOP leaders at the White House. No visible agreement was reported and plenty of hurdles remained, but both sides cast their meeting positively as, for the first time, hopes emerged that a resolution might be attainable, even if only a temporary one.

Obama planned a late-morning White House meeting with GOP senators, who said they would present options of their own for ending the government shutdown and debt limit standoff. Determined to resolve the twin crises, the Republicans have reached out to senior Democrats, including New York Sen. Chuck Schumer.

President Barack Obama will press his case for a quick reopening of the entire federal government coupled with an emergency increase of U.S. borrowing authority when he meets with Senate Republicans on Friday.

With a partial government shutdown in its eleventh day and less than a week to go before the Treasury Department runs out of money to pay the government’s bills, the Democratic president has been urging congressional Republicans to end a fiscal impasse that has overtaken Washington and rippled through the country.

Vice President Joe Biden will join Obama in pressing for fast action, which could come by week’s end if a series of new efforts by Republicans in the House of Representatives and Senate bear fruit.

Late on Thursday, House of Representatives Republicans were looking at possible changes to a vague plan they floated that would give Obama a short-term debt limit increase – possibly lasting about six weeks – and reopen the government.

But many details had to be worked out, including what Republicans would get in return. House Speaker John Boehner said he and his fellow Republicans want solid commitments from Obama and his congressional Democrats on some longer-term deficit-reduction steps.

The October 17 deadline for raising the U.S. debt ceiling or risking an historic default was daunting because any deal that is struck by leaders could face a revolt from conservatives in both the House and Senate.

That is particularly problematic in the Senate, where procedural delays can slow legislation for up to a week – about the time remaining before borrowing authority runs out, according to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.

But public opinion polls showing Republicans were being blamed for forcing a government shutdown at the October 1 start of the new fiscal year fueled a desire by many in the party to cut their losses.

Late on Thursday some senior House Republicans were optimistic. Representative Pete Sessions, who chairs the House Rules Committee that is a gatekeeper for all legislation headed for debate in the full chamber, said a deal could be struck as early as Friday.

If he is correct, that could queue up votes in the full House by this weekend.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans were discussing a series of different ideas, including a fast reopening of the government coupled with a debt limit increase and the repeal of an unpopular medical device tax that would raise revenues to help pay for “Obamacare” healthcare subsidies. Under that plan, the revenues would instead be raised through some pension reforms.

But their insistence on cuts in the health care law as the price for re-opening government has frustrated many Senate Republicans, who see that battle as un-winnable.

That has prompted Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other GOP senators to seek their own possible resolution to the shutdown and debt limit fights.

“For the first time there seems to be some movement,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said after a meeting with McConnell, R-Ky., and a half dozen Senate Republicans.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and others have proposed a six-month extension of government spending, repeal of the medical device tax and greater flexibility for agencies to deal with across-the-board spending cuts in effect this year.

McCain said the goal was ending the shutdown and raising the debt limit, but said, “We will not defund Obamacare,” a crucial demand for conservatives.

Reid has proposed extending the debt limit through 2014, which would boost the current $16.7 trillion debt limit by around $1 trillion. He has been planning for a test vote by Saturday on the measure, which has no other conditions, but Republicans may have enough votes to block it unless he agrees to changes.

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