WASHINGTON - US Senators looked to party leaders Sunday to devise a plan that would reopen the government and steer clear of a potential default this week, just four days before the Treasury is scheduled to run out of money, saying it’s unthinkable that political obstinacy would prevent the United States from paying its bills.
With House leaders sidelined, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, A Democrat, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, have taken the lead on discussions in the fiscal crisis. That raised the level of optimism among some senators that a deal could be reached even as Reid has said there was a “long ways to go” and few details on the leaders’ talks have emerged.
Focus shifted to the Senate when President Barack Obama rejected a plan from Republicans in the House of Representatives to extend the so-called debt ceiling by just six weeks and made no offer lift the US government shutdown.
"We don't have anything done yet – there's a long way to go before something like that will happen," Senator Reid said, adding that he hoped to achieve a deal "in the next 48 hours".
“It’s a breakthrough. Hard to imagine, but it’s a breakthrough,” said Senator Dick Durbin, the No. 2. Senate Democratic leader, on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Republican Senator Rob Portman predicted a short-term solution could be reached. “We will figure it out,” Portman said.
The US government has been partially shut since Oct. 1 because of Congress’ failure to pass a normally routine temporary spending bill. Separately, Obama wants Congress to extend the government’s borrowing authority - another matter that usually had been routine.
Sunday marked the 13th day of a federal shutdown that has continued to idle 350,000 government workers, left hundreds of thousands of others working without pay and curtailed everything from veterans’ services to environmental inspections. Last week, the effects of the shutdown reached businesses, such as concessions and hotels near federal parks, that depend on government programmes.
More ominously, Thursday’s deadline to raise debt ceiling drew another day closer, the day the Obama administration has warned the US will deplete its borrowing authority and risk an unprecedented federal default.
Economists say that could send shockwaves throughout the US and beyond. Amid meetings in Washington of world finance officials, the International Monetary Fund’s policy committee said the US needs to take “urgent action” to address the impasse.