WASHINGTON – Senators edged closer to a budget deal Monday as the top four congressional leaders were called to an afternoon meeting at the White House.
“We’re getting closer. We’re working on it,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said after leaving a nearly half-hour meeting with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
With the government expected to hit its borrowing limit Thursday, President Obama invited Reid, McConnell, House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to meet. But aides said Obama would repeat his past demands: that the congressional leaders raise the debt ceiling, pay the nation’s bills and reopen the government.
Obama intends to reiterate that he “will not pay a ransom” in exchange for those things, White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.
But after Senate talks suffered a setback over the weekend, Reid suggested that Senate Republicans and Democrats may be starting to work something out.
Over the weekend, with Republicans in some disarray on the subject, Democrats pressed their advantage.
Democrats rejected a bipartisan proposal led by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, in part because it would have kept the harsh budget cuts known as the sequester in place through March.
Collins kept working Monday to keep her compromise alive, meeting with McConnell and reaching out to Democratic colleagues.
“We continue to discuss the parameters of an agreement,” she said.
The Collins proposal would raise the debt limit through January and extend funding to run the government through March. The latter provision would lock in a new round of sequester spending cuts coming early next year.
Collins also sought changes to the president’s health-care law, including a two-year delay of a tax on medical-device makers. The 2.3 percent excise tax is opposed by Republicans and some Democrats.
For his part, Obama has sent signals that he might be willing to delay the medical-device tax, though he has also warned that such a move would slow the current pace of deficit reduction. Otherwise, he hasn’t publicly budged much from the lines he has already drawn in the budget and debt talks.
Obama, in a visit to a food kitchen in the capital, said the afternoon meeting would show whether the progress on a deal is real. There’s a “good chance of default” if no compromise is reached, he said.
In announcing the meeting, Carney said the president would “reiterate our principles to the leaders” and “make clear the need for Congress to act to pay our bills and reopen the government.”
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Finance Committee, took the long view Monday. “It’s not over until it’s over,” he said. “I’m quite confident it all be put together before the debt limit’s reached.”