WASHINGTON — In the shutdown showdown, the Senate is now center stage.
After talks between House Speaker John Boehner and President Barack Obama over the government shutdown and looming debt limit deadline hit a brick wall, Senate Democrats met with Obama at the White House on Saturday afternoon for 75 minutes.
The meeting was hailed as “productive” by a Senate Democratic leadership aide, who added that the “Democrats’ position remains the same: Democrats are willing to negotiate on anything Republicans want to discuss as soon as we reopen the government and pay our bills.” The aide, who is familiar with the talks, spoke on the condition of anonymity so that the aide could speak candidly.
Discussions are expected to continue via phone, and the Senate will come back into session Sunday at 1 p.m.
Before the meeting at the White House, the second highest-ranking Democrat, Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, told CNN’s Deirdre Walsh that the goal is to lock down a framework to reopen the government and extend the debt ceiling before markets open Monday.
In the Saturday session, the upper chamber defeated a procedural measure to extend the debt limit with no strings attached. While a vote had little chance of passing, work continued behind the scenes.
And the heavy lifters have taken the lead.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said he and his counterpart, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell are involved in “cordial” and “preliminary” discussions.
Although there is “nothing conclusive” yet, Reid said, “I hope that our talking is some solace to the American people and the world.”
Indicating that Republicans are now more willing to negotiate, Reid said McConnell approached him to begin talks. “This hasn’t happened until now,” Reid said.
The markets and global economy also are closely watching what happens in Washington. Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, told CNN’s Richard Quest that going past the October 17 debt limit deadline would have “massive financial consequences” to the global economy.
“I wouldn’t say they are confident,” Lagarde said, summarizing the position of financial representatives from 188 countries. “I would say they are concerned, and they are very anxious to see this crisis resolved, because they know it’s going to impact on their economy.”
The developments come as the government shutdown nears the end of its second week and the deadline given by the Treasury Department to lift the debt ceiling is only five days away.
Reid also noted that a proposal by a bipartisan group of senators, led by Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, is no longer on the table because it treated opening the government as a “concession.”
Reid continues to demand that any plan include a “clean” bill with no strings attached that raises the debt limit and reopens the government.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said progress is being made. “I think our Republican colleagues are moving in our direction with the fact that Obamacare is not a major part of the discussion any more among most all Senate and many House Republicans,” he said.
Tennessee Republican Bob Corker told CNN that Reid and McConnell “will continue to talk over the weekend.”
“Again, it is very evident that the White House is not going to be involved in negotiations, at least at this point they are not, and that the centerpiece is Reid and McConnell. So I think all of us want to support those efforts and hopefully they bear fruit over the weekend,” Corker said.
Corker said that lawmakers continue to talk to each other and that discussions are “good.”
Obama-Boehner talks stall
Republican leadership told the Republican caucus during a Saturday morning meeting that the president will not accept their proposal to raise the debt limit for six weeks.
Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, told CNN Saturday that “the President rejected our deal.”
The standstill comes after a Friday afternoon phone call between Boehner and Obama in which they decided keep talking.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Illinois, said the President is waiting for a better offer.
“It doesn’t seem like the White House is serious at all about entering negotiations with us until they see what comes out of the Senate. If they get something out of the Senate that’s weaker than our negotiated position, it obviously strengthens their position,” Kinzinger said.
While Democrats flat out rejected Boehner’s proposal, even some Republicans didn’t like it. That’s because it lacked a mechanism in the House proposal to immediately reopen the government, which has been partially shut down since October 1, prompting the furlough of hundreds of thousands of workers, the closing of national parks and an increase in public anger.
The standstill between Boehner and Obama has put on hold any the possibility that the House would vote on its proposal to reopen the government this weekend. While leadership would remain in Washington to continue work, rank-and-file members have begun returning home to their districts until Monday afternoon.