(Bloomberg) — Senate leaders are poised to reach an agreement as early as today to bring a halt to the fiscal standoff, and now must race the clock to sell the plan to lawmakers before U.S. borrowing authority runs out this week.
The emerging deal would stave off a potential default, end the 15-day-old government shutdown and change the immediate deadlines in favor of three new ones over the next four months. It’s far from complete as the Senate may delay passing the plan and House Republicans may seek to block or change it.
Lawmakers would be required to hold budget talks by Dec. 13, fund the government through Jan. 15, 2014, and extend the nation’s borrowing authority until Feb. 7, 2014, according to a person familiar with the Senate talks who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the concept.
“We’ve made tremendous progress,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said Monday on the Senate floor with his Republican counterpart, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. “We are not there yet.”
An agreement would forestall the immediate crisis. It would end the shutdown that has closed many federal services and prevent a possible U.S. default that the Treasury Department said may be catastrophic.
U.S. lawmakers, who have governed from fiscal crisis to fiscal crisis for more than two years, may be setting up more crises in the near future. The agreement would delay the next major deadline — the Jan. 15 lapse in government funding — until after the holiday shopping season.
There are two potential obstacles to an agreement. First, a single senator would be able to use procedural tactics to push a final vote past the Oct. 17 lapse in borrowing authority. Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who spoke for more than 21 hours during a budget debate last month, wouldn’t rule out stalling maneuvers, saying he wants to see the details of the plan.
Also, House Republicans, who have demanded major changes to President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, may resist any proposal that contains few of their priorities.
“Sounds like everything the president asked for,” Representative Blake Farenthold, a Texas Republican aligned with the Tea Party movement, said yesterday when asked about the Senate framework.
Obama has insisted that Congress raise the $16.7 trillion U.S. debt limit without add-ons and that stopgap spending bills be free of policy conditions.
A Senate agreement would again put pressure on House Speaker John Boehner, who has a 232-200 Republican majority. He may have to decide whether to side with hardliners insistent on changes to ‘Obamacare’ or rely on Democratic votes to pass a bipartisan Senate plan through the House.
House Republicans also may consider making changes and sending the plan back to the Senate.
Reid and McConnell may release the plan’s details as early as today. Any one senator could push a final vote until at least Oct. 18, after the debt ceiling is breached though before the U.S. runs out of cash and begins missing payments between Oct. 22 and Oct. 31.
House Republicans were meeting at 9 a.m. in the Capitol and may consider separate debt-limit legislation on the floor. Senators will meet in party caucuses.
“We’ve not made any decision,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, said Monday. “We are going to meet with our members in the morning to determine the best path forward.”
Representative Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the House Budget Committee, today said the budget provision included in the Senate plan isn’t enough to resolve the fiscal impasse.
“You need to do more than that,” Ryan told reporters as he walked into the meeting of House Republicans.
The lack of significant health-law changes in the Senate agreement is causing concerns for some House members.
Representative Charles Boustany, a Louisiana Republican, said party leaders will have “a hard time” gaining support from a number of House Republicans “because of the lack of ‘Obamacare’ features” in the Senate proposal.
“The one good news” is the spending level won’t change, Boustany said. “That’s a victory.”
The House hasn’t passed debt-ceiling legislation, in part because hard-liners were demanding hundreds of billions of dollars of spending cuts to entitlement programs.
“All of us should be worried that we can’t get a majority for anything,” Representative Devin Nunes, a California Republican, told reporters at the Capitol on Monday. “I’ve always thought that the House should actually do something with 218 votes that’s realistic and gives us a firm position, but we haven’t proven that we can do that.”
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