Bipartisan group of senators, organized by Collins, meet to seek deal

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is followed by reporters as she leaves a meeting of Senate Republicans regarding the government shutdown and debt ceiling on Capitol Hill in Washington, Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine)  (Charles Dharapak/AP)

A bipartisan group of senators organized by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) met for two hours Monday morning, as talks intensify in the Senate over ways to end the government shutdown and lift the debt ceiling.

After briefing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) about the talks Monday morning, Collins said the group was making progress — but that focus must remain on talks between McConnell and Sen. Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.).

"We continue to discuss the parameters of an agreement," she said. "But there really is a focus on the leadership right now."

The group's Democratic members are scheduled to brief Reid on their progress soon.

There had been hope late Friday that the Senate was coalescing around a proposal the group had written, which would have raised the debt ceiling until Jan. 31 and funded federal agencies through March.

But Reid   balked at the proposal, seeking a longer time frame for the debt ceiling and a shorter spending bill, ensuring that Congress would negotiate budget issues before a new round of sequestration cuts hit in January.

The Democratic members of the group issued a statement late Sunday that they no longer backed the Friday proposal, but said that negotiations continued.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the group spent time Monday discussing the timelines that had bothered Reid.

"We're on dates and times. We're working on specifics," he said, declining to name them.

"We continue to have negotiations and I think we're making progress in those negotiations," he said. "We have outlines of what we think we still have some differences."

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