WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate's top two leaders both expressed optimism Monday that they were closing in on an agreement to prevent a national financial default and reopen the government after a two-week partial shutdown.
After meeting twice Monday with his Republican counterpart, Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid opened the Senate session by saying he was 'very optimistic we will reach an agreement this week that's reasonable in nature." Moments later, Republican leader Mitch McConnell seconded Reid's view.
They spoke after what McConnell termed "a couple of very useful discussions."
Officials in both parties said House and Senate negotiators would be appointed to seek a deficit-reduction agreement that could ease or eliminate a new round of automatic spending cuts scheduled to take effect in January. While the current round of these cuts fell on both domestic programs and defense, the upcoming reductions would hit primarily the Pentagon.
The officials said the two leaders were discussing legislation to raise the $16.7 trillion debt limit until spring. It was not clear if that would permit Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew to employ a series of steps that could add additional months to the extension, as administrations in both parties have done in recent years.
In addition to raising the debt limit and reopening the government, officials said, the two leaders were discussing a possible tightening in income verification requirements for individuals who qualify for subsidies under the health care law known as Obamacare. Democrats were resisting a Republican-backed proposal to suspend a medical device tax that was enacted as part of the health care law. The tax is widely unpopular among lawmakers in both parties, but the outcome of that disagreement remained unclear.
These officials spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to discuss private matters.