Senate moderates are still working–and may be closing in on a deal.
Speaker John Boehner’s attempt to get a bill through his conference fell apart Tuesday night, but Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, and other senators from both parties kept trying to hash out a deal.
On Wednesday’s Morning Joe, Collins characterized her plan as the “best hope” for a compromise.
“What the 14 of us have tried to do is offer an end to this impasse, to offer a path forward, where each side can point to provisions they like,” she said. “We’ve essentially reached an agreement.”
The Senate had spearheaded dealmaking late last week, coming to a tentative agreement on Monday night between Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell. But those talks stalled when Boehner tried to push forward with his own plan.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell himself suggested that the lines had reopened after the House bill fell apart on Tuesday evening. Asked whether he was going to meet with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, McConnell said: “I’m as near as the telephone.”
The two men spoke by phone later that evening.
“We are making good progress,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, leaving Reid’s office just before 8:00 on Tuesday evening.
“We’re very close,” a Democratic leadership aide said of the discussions.
“The nerds have to work,” McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said, referring to legislative staffers that are now writing the details.
Still, any one senator–Ted Cruz, for example–could hold up the process for days before the Senate could act.
“There are ways for members of the Senate to delay even a bipartisan agreement if they wish. I hope they don’t,” Durbin said.
It’s unclear what procedure the Senate would use to move the bill forward. Late Tuesday, leaders were still hoping for a message from the House that would let them move more quickly. But the House adjourned before the Senate closed for the day.
One possibility: a bipartisan cloture petition, a very rare instance where members from both parties would sign on to a petition to end debate on a bill and bring it to the floor. That’s only happened a few times before.
Such a decision could put pressure on Senate conservatives to allow a bill to move. But it would still take unanimous consent to speed the process up.
“They are optimistic an agreement can be reached,” said McConnell spokesman Don Stewart in a statement.
NBC’s Kasie Hunt contributed to this report.