WASHINGTON — Sens. Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell on Saturday began last-ditch negotiations on reopening the government and raising the debt ceiling as talks between House Republicans and the White House collapsed, dashing hopes for a quick resolution to the political crisis that has paralyzed the government.
The dead end with the House, coming just five days before the nation reaches its borrowing limit and faces the possibility of a crippling financial default, has left Republicans on Capitol Hill with no easy options.
“No deal,” Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Budget Committee, said as he left a meeting with fellow Republicans in the Capitol.
There is now little doubt that any deal to reopen the federal bureaucracy would have to come from the Senate, where Reid, the majority leader, and McConnell, the minority leader, sat down face to face Saturday morning for the first time since July. The meeting, which both sides described as a constructive if highly preliminary step toward talks that would continue throughout the weekend, was an indication of just how urgent the situation has become.
“I hope that our talking is some solace to the American people and the world,” Reid said.
He and McConnell are now back leading negotiations process that has so far been marred by mistrust and anger.
Reid was careful not to sound too hopeful, but added: “Senator McConnell and I have been in this body a long time. We’ve done things together for a long time together. I know him. He knows me. We don’t agree on everything, and that’s, as you know, an understatement.”
He added, “This is what legislating is all about.”
For Speaker John A. Boehner and House Republicans, the options were much grimmer. The speaker, who told his members in an early morning meeting that his efforts to strike a compromise with the White House had failed, can continue to push back against President Barack Obama and hope for some give in the White House’s stance that it will not negotiate until the government is reopened and the debt ceiling is raised. If he were to pursue a more accommodating approach similar to his Republican colleagues in the Senate, he risks angering the conservatives who dominate his conference.
Those conservatives left their meeting in the Capitol on Saturday in a sour mood, many of them saying that they were outraged that Obama still refused to meet them halfway.
Rep. John Carter of Texas described Obama as “acting like a royal president.”
“He’s still ‘my way or the highway,’” Carter said.
With concern growing that global financial markets could be thrown into turmoil if Congress does not agree to raise the debt ceiling, Republicans said they did not know whether Boehner would have enough support from the most conservative members in his conference to put a Senate plan up for a vote — if the leaders reach a deal.
“The question is: What will Senate Republicans do, what will Senate Democrats do?” said Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill.
Many Republicans said that, however frustrated they were that the White House would not negotiate with them, they were just as dismayed with House colleagues who would not back down from their demands that any deal include provisions to chip away at the health care law.
“The problem here is that we don’t have a functioning majority,” said Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif. “After three weeks of this, they’re still not figuring it out. I don’t know what it takes.”
The proposal House Republican presented to the White House late last week called for increasing the Treasury Department’s authority to borrow money through Nov. 22, but only if Obama agreed to more expansive talks about overhauling the budget.
The failure of talks with the White House further strained the relationship between House Republicans and the president. Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., called the development “a total breakdown in trust.”
“You don’t tell the speaker, the majority leader, the majority whip, ‘We’re going to negotiate.’ Then they come and tell our entire conference, ‘We’re going to negotiate,’” he said. “And then 24 hours later, you recant.”
Feelings ran so high on the House floor Saturday morning that there was a brief altercation between Rep. Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., and Chris Vieson, the floor director for Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., the majority leader. There were conflicting reports about whether the conflict became physical — or was confined to words, but both sides said they had apologized.
If Republicans needed any reminder about how outraged their most conservative supporters would be if they committed to a compromise that did not include provisions to weaken the president’s health care law, they needed look no further than out of the window. Glenn Beck, the fiery radio personality, was leading a group of Tea Party activists on the National Mall.Continued...