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On Tuesday, Democratic leaders in the Senate were laying plans to do just that. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., introduced a bill that would suspend enforcement of the debt limit through the end of next year, after the 2014 midterm elections.
All 54 Senate Democrats - even those facing tough races - appeared to be falling into line behind the measure. GOP Senate leaders, however, were optimistic about holding their ranks and denying the bill the 60 votes it needs to overcome a GOP filibuster, a test that could come as soon as Saturday.
But during a closed-door lunch meeting Tuesday, veteran GOP senators expressed grave concerns about derailing the bill with no alternative plan for raising the debt limit by the Oct. 17 deadline, according to one Republican in the room.
House GOP leaders, meanwhile, unveiled a new strategy for handling the crisis, proposing to create a 20-member bipartisan "working group" to end the shutdown and raise the debt limit. The working group, to be composed of Republicans and Democrats from the House and the Senate, would be charged with brokering agency funding levels for fiscal 2014, perhaps replacing deep cuts known as the sequester with cuts to federal health and retirement programs.
The measure passed the House 224 to 197, with most Democrats voting no. But Democrats in the Senate quickly dismissed it as "supercommittee 2.0" - after the failed fiscal negotiations of 2011 - and noted that the group’s charge includes nothing about raising taxes on the wealthy, a Democratic priority. Before the House could even vote, the White House threatened to veto the measure.
The House also approved a measure to ensure that federal prison guards, U.S. Capitol Police officers and staffers at other agencies currently on the job would be paid as usual for the duration of the shutdown. A separate bill passed by the House over the weekend to provide back pay to furloughed personnel is still awaiting a vote in the Senate.
Both measures that passed Tuesday were presented to the House Republican rank and file in a closed-door morning meeting. After that session, Boehner told reporters that "there’s never been a president in our history that did not negotiate over the debt limit," noting that Obama bargained not only with him in 2011 but also with moderate Democrats in 2010. The latter negotiation produced an agreement to create an independent fiscal commission known as Bowles-Simpson.
Boehner refused to say, however, what he hopes negotiations this time would produce.
"I’m not drawing any lines in the sand," he said. "There’s no boundaries here. There’s nothing on the table. There’s nothing off the table. I’m trying to do everything I can to bring people together and to have a conversation."
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Washington Post staffers Paul Kane, Ed O’Keefe and Jackie Kucinich contributed to this report.
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