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October 15, 2013

Government Shutdown Update

With a wary eye toward potential turbulence from House Republicans, Senate leaders Monday night were seeking to finalize a deal to raise the debt ceiling and end the government shutdown in a way that could receive strong bipartisan support in the Senate.

“Perhaps tomorrow will be a bright day. We hope it will be,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., speaking Monday night on the Senate floor.

Added Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also speaking on the floor: “I think it’s safe to say we’ve made substantial progress.”

Such optimism prompted a postponement earlier Monday of a planned meeting of congressional leaders—including House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.—with President Obama at the White House.

With just three days until the government would reach the limit on its borrowing authority, the news Monday from the two longtime political foes was received positively in the markets, with the Dow Jones spiking by about 30 points.

Of course, any deal would have to win approval of not only Obama, but the Republican-led House, where conservative hard-liners have been pushing for concessions on the Affordable Care Act to restart government funding.

As of early Monday evening, it was unclear whether any anti-Obamacare measures would be included in the emerging deal, though at least two proposals were being discussed. Some grumbling was already emerging from House conservatives. “Reid says this is going to pass the Senate? We’ll see,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan. He said that with “98 or 99 percent of Obamacare” left in place, “I don’t see how that will pass over here” in the House.

As the details were still being finalized, one source said that it looked like the deal would reopen the government until Jan. 15 and raise the debt limit until Feb. 7. The agreement also would direct an immediate bicameral conference on the budget and on a long-term tax and spending plan, with the conferees having to report by Dec. 13. That is significant because the next round of so-called sequester cuts are to kick in in early January. Presumably, one of the first tasks of the conferees would be to recommend whether those cuts should be rescinded, as Democrats in the Senate want, or go ahead as scheduled.

Off the table as of late Monday evening was a delay or repeal of the medical-device excise tax which helps fund components of the Affordable Care Act.

But another GOP-pushed measure, to require tighter income-verification standards for people who receive subsidies under the new health care law, apparently was part of the deal. Sources also said an agreement could include a one-year delay of the reinsurance tax tied to Obamacare, which employers pay.

Some House Republicans have said their conference, not wanting to get pinned down on a deal hashed out in the Senate with little time left before Thursday’s debt-ceiling deadline, might unveil their own new plan this week. But as of Monday, said senior aides, no new counterproposal had been prepared. It remained unclear if Boehner would put such a Senate deal on the House floor if a majority of his rank-and-file Republicans opposed it.