On Sunday — with the Treasury Department due to exhaust its borrowing power in just four days — Reid was wielding that leverage to maximum advantage. Rather than making concessions that would undermine Obama’s signature health-care initiative, as Republicans first demanded, Democrats are now on the offensive and seeking to undo what has become a cherished prize for the GOP: deep agency spending cuts known as the sequester.
Reid and McConnell spoke only once Sunday, a telephone call in the afternoon, aides said. As he closed a rare Sunday session of the Senate, Reid characterized the conversation as “productive” and “substantive.”
“I’m optimistic about the prospects for a positive conclusion to the issues before this country today,” he said.
But the shift in focus away from the imminent threat of a first-ever default on the U.S. debt sparked outrage among Republicans and alarm among the world’s financial leaders, meeting this weekend in Washington.
Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, warned on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that a failure by the United States to make scheduled payments to investors “would mean massive disruption the world over. And we would be at risk of tipping yet again into a recession.”
Republicans, meanwhile, said any agreement to back away from the sequester cuts would be opposed by GOP senators and doomed in the Republican House.
The fight over the debt limit is “typically a point where you try to create reforms and reduce deficits, so to agree to something that raises spending from previously agreed-to levels, I just can’t imagine that,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). “I just can’t imagine how that has any possibility of becoming law.”
Democrats insisted that they have no interest in rolling back the sequester cuts now. Reid noted that the Senate had already approved and sent to the House a measure that would leave the cuts in place through the middle of November, with “not a word about breaking [spending] caps,” Reid said on the Senate floor.
Instead, Democrats said they objected to a debt-limit plan developed by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) because it would permit the cuts to stay in place through March, allowing another round of sequester cuts to hit on Jan. 15.
At that point, agency spending for fiscal 2014, which began Oct. 1, would be on track to fall roughly $90 billion lower than Democrats have proposed. And with the fiscal year half over, Democrats would have scant opportunity to renegotiate the numbers, a top priority.