Susan Collins floating fiscal deal
By: Burgess Everett
October 9, 2013 03:45 PM EDT
A proposal from Sen. Susan Collins is emerging as one potential way to dig lawmakers out of a government shutdown and possibly also avoid a potentially catastrophic debt default.
The moderate Maine Republican, whose vote will be essential to any fiscal deal, is circulating a rough plan to reopen the government, repeal the medical device tax and provide agencies with greater flexibility in implementing the sequester. The initial reception has been positive and may be the beginnings of a bipartisan solution to end the intractable impasse between House Republicans and Senate Democrats.
Collins said Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who are also being watched as potential GOP votes to end the fiscal standoff, have signed onto the proposal. And Collins said she has spoken to “several Democrats” about her plan, which she hopes “at least provides concepts that could be the basis for us reopening government.”
Given the closeness of the Oct. 17 debt ceiling deadline, Democrats are asking Collins to roll some increase of the debt ceiling into the plan as well.
“I’m hearing from many Democrats that if there were a way to deal somehow with the debt limit as well as part of this plan that that would be helpful. And obviously time is of the essence,” Collins said. “My colleagues are saying that it’s good someone has come forward with a concrete plan.”
The proposal has not been dismissed out-of-hand by Senate leaders or aides in either party. Collins said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) deemed it “worthy of consideration,” though he did not explicitly endorse it. Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) didn’t pan the proposal when asked about it and trained his fire on Senate Democrats’ bill to raise the debt ceiling through 2014, which he said he is “optimistic” Senate Republicans will bloc.
“There’s a lot of different ideas out there. And I think that’s good. There’s one very bad idea, which is a clean debt ceiling increase,” Cornyn said.
The House might also balk: A plan to fund the government for six months and repeal the device tax from Reps. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) and Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) was quickly dismissed by leadership.
But more than anything, Collins’s legislative outline shows that though there is no grand negotiating table in Washington, senators are holding myriad one-on-one conversations in the hope they can coalesce around some kind of fiscal accord. After leaving a GOP lunch on Wednesday, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he’d received six separate phone calls in 20 minutes about finding a solution to the impasse.
“People who are Democrats are interested in resolving this, OK? We continue to talk. No progress, but there never is until we reach a breakthrough,” McCain said. “Sen. Collins has come forward with a pretty good proposal that some of us like.”
Republicans are increasingly predicting a Saturday procedural vote on raising the debt ceiling into 2015 will fail, which could turn Collins’s plan into a vehicle to raising the debt ceiling as well.
“I know it’s not going to pass,” McCain said of Democrats’ debt ceiling hike. “I’m voting against it because it’s phony. There’s no result. It’s just propaganda, that’s all. Does anybody believe the House of Representatives is going to agree to that?”