October 11, 2013

Reports are dribbling out about a possible offer House Republicans are floating to get out of the crisis. The Associated Press reports they are suggesting funding of the government plus a temporary debt limit hike, in exchange for formal talks designed to ease the sequester by replacing it with entitlement cuts.

Democrats are taking this seriously — as a sign of a genuine shift in tone on the part of House Republicans, and as a sign they are seriously looking for a way to put an end to this mess. But they still think Republicans aren’t prepared to come to terms with the fundamental view of the situation that is motivating Democrats, and to work within that framework.

A Senate Democratic leadership aide tells me Dems aren’t prepared to comment directly on the House GOP offer — because details involving things such as duration are unclear — but reiterated to me that the general framework underlying the offer is still not acceptable.

“What we don’t want to do is give away any policy concessions now, if part of the deal is having a second phase of negotiations,” the aide tells me. “If they are offering a six week thing, or a couple of months, we’re not going to give them policy concessions so they can seek more during a second phase of negotiation.”

The aide described the Dem principle as follows: “Is this deal a stopgap? Or will it take the CR and debt ceiling off the table for a year or so? We can have a negotiation, but we can’t have it be backstopped by the threat of default later.”

“No major concessions in exchange for anything that sets us up for another round of crisis negotiations,” the aide added. “If we’re talking about a global deal here that puts us in an entirely different place, then we’re more open.”

In an interesting twist, Dems believe that by floating the six-week debt limit hike, House Republicans have paradoxically “lit a fire” under Senate Republicans to move towards a deal with Senate Dems, as the aide puts it — because Senate GOPers don’t want to be back in the same place later this fall.

The result of that has been that negotiations are underway between Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats over a possible long term deal. The details of this are unclear, but reports suggest it would involve a short term debt limit hike, longer term funding of the government at sequester levels and repeal of the medical device tax.

Asked about the progress of these talks, the Democratic aide suggested progress had been made but that nothing was imminent.

One outcome that still seems quite plausible is one that fudges the Republican demand that Dems agree to talks. There might be ways Dems can agree on some kind of resolution to enter into talks later — a statement of intent or an agreement on general goals — that would not constitute giving Republicans any significant policy concessions in exchange for a short term clean CR and debt limit hike.

That would be in keeping with the principle Dems have laid down: That there will be no significant policy concessions in exchange for ending either the debt limit or government shutdown crises, if it creates circumstances within which Republicans can come back in six weeks and demand more to avert the next round of crises. With the clock ticking down, that principle appears to be holding.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.
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