Senate Procedural Power Play Could Doom Debt Deal

Monday, 14 Oct 2013 08:31 PM

By Amy Woods

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While Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said substantial progress had been made on a federal budget deal, former Senate staff member Steve Bell said a single senator could polarize the process and lead the country into default.

"Perhaps tomorrow will be a bright day," the Nevada Democrat said, according to The Hill. "Sen. [Mitch] McConnell and I have been working diligently over the last few days. We've made tremendous progress, and we're just not there yet."

Bell's view isn't so rosy.

"People should recognize that it is going to be a major legislative effort to get any deal that's reached passed by the end of Thursday," he said, warning of a procedural power play in the Senate that could blow up a bipartisan agreement.

"If [senators] want to really be as obstreperous as the rules of the Senate would allow them, I don't think you could pass a deal . . . until the weekend. That's the worst-case scenario," said the longtime Republican Senate staffer who is now with the Bipartisan Policy Center.

The Hill reported Reid and McConnell are compromising on a plan to reopen the government, fund it through Jan. 15, and increase the debt ceiling. House Speaker John Boehner was reviewing the deal.

Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, who gave a 21-hour speech to try to block the chamber from hammering out a continuing resolution, would not say whether he would block the deal.

"We need to see what the details are first," Cruz said.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, acknowledged political maneuvering is a risk and a reality.

"If we had grownups who care more about the country than their own political future and the kind of fundraising they can do from a small ideological group, then I'd be very confident," Leahy said.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has said that with no deal after Oct. 17, the nation could be in the position of not being able to pay what it owes.

Whether the Senate will be able to advance a compromise before the Treasury deadline will hinge almost entirely on whether any senators decide to exhaust their procedural powers fighting the measure.

If a senator or group of senators wanted to prolong the process as long as possible, experts warn, the Senate could blow right past the deadline even if there are enough votes to overcome a filibuster.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who has been involved in compromise talks with centrist members, said Monday the contours of a final deal could influence whether conservative senators like Cruz or Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, try to slow it down.

The Treasury has not said the government would default Friday without a debt-limit boost, but warned that it could no longer guarantee the government would be able to pay all its bills on any given day.

At best, many outside experts think the government could pay all its bills until Nov. 1, when roughly $60 billion in payments on things such as Social Security and Medicare come due.

 



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