After weeks of partisan screeching over the shutdown and debt ceiling, things have gotten quiet in Congress – and that’s a good sign.
Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell spent Monday huddled in private negotiations that both sides say have the potential to produce a deal.
“We’ve made tremendous progress, but we’re not there yet,” Reid said in a brief floor speech before the Senate went home Monday night.
“[We] had a good day yesterday, had a good day today,” McConnell added. “I think it’s safe to say we’ve made substantial progress and we look forward to making more progress in the near future.”
The deal under discussion would include an extension of federal funding to January 15, an extension of the debt limit until February and terms for a budget conference to work out a longer term spending deal by December 13, according to a Democratic aide.
The proposal would also make two minor changes to the Affordable Care Act. First, it would delay to the law’s reinsurance fee, a provision requiring employers to pay into a pool that would support insurers if too few healthy people obtained coverage through the exchanges. This fee is opposed by labor unions, so the move would be considered a plus for Democrats. Second, it would put in place a stricter procedure for verifying the income of people applying for government subsidies to buy insurance, which Republicans could claim as a win.
Both parties would get something out of the bill.
For Democrats, the date of the funding bill would give them a chance to renegotiate sequestration, which is set to kick in with another round of cuts on January 15. Under another term of the deal, agencies would also be granted more flexibility in implementing sequester cuts if they aren’t replaced by a new budget deal.
Republicans could say they won at least some changes to the health care law and that they forced President Obama to play ball despite his refusal to negotiate under threat of shutdown and default. Democrats could say they stuck to Obama’s pledge not to pay a “ransom” for GOP votes, since they packaged two ACA provisions of corresponding value.
“Fundamentally, we said we wanted a clean CR and a clean debt ceiling increase, and we got both,” the senior Democratic aide told MSNBC. “The income verification/reinsurance trade is consistent with the principle that Rs don’t get anything in exchange for the debt ceiling.”
But no matter how you spin it, the Senate plan would represent a humiliating retreat for the conservative Republican lawmakers who refused to keep the government open unless Democrats either defunded or significantly disrupted the president’s health care law. Monday’s negotiations took place amid a flurry of polls showing the GOP at record lows in the public approval, a drop clearly attributable to the hardline strategy that produced the shutdown. That dynamic is likely to influence how each side views the deal.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a leader of the “defund Obamacare” effort, pointedly refused to discuss the emerging deal on Monday, telling reporters he wanted to “wait to see what the details are” in response to nine straight questions on the topic.