WASHINGTON -- Senate Republicans are holding the line against Democratic demands for a framework to alleviate the across-the-board spending cuts established by sequestration as part of any deal to end the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling.
In talks between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the main sticking point is now where to establish funding levels for the federal government and for how long. The Republican offer made on Friday -- to set spending at sequestration levels of $988 billion for the next six months -– was rejected by Reid and others on Saturday on the grounds that it was too favorable to the GOP position and discouraged future negotiations.
By Sunday morning, little notable progress toward a resolution had been made. McConnell, according to sources, was adamant that the spending cuts of sequestration be maintained in any final arrangement.
"Sen. McConnell will defend the commitment Congress made on spending reductions; he'll defend the law that Sen. Reid voted for and the president signed -- and subsequently bragged about in his campaign," said McConnell spokesman Don Stewart. "As I recall, Sen. Reid voted for, and President Obama signed the Budget Control Act [which established sequestration]. They may not like that the supercommittee didn’t act and we’re left with sequester, but under their own rhetoric, it's 'the law of the land.'"
Some of McConnell’s top deputies that echoed sentiment on the Sunday talk shows. "The president and leaders of Congress need to take the responsibility of dealing with the underlying problem and keep the budget caps in place,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) told "Meet The Press." "My gosh, we just put them in place two years ago."
"If you break the spending caps, you're not going to get any Republicans in the Senate," Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.) said on ABC's "This Week."
So where does that leave negotiations? In a difficult but not impossible place.
Senate Republicans would like to keep spending at $988 billion for one year, though in Friday's offer moderates in the party were demanding only six months. Democrats want spending at $1.059 trillion, but nearly all have said they would be willing to stomach $988 billion in the short term.
Such a deal was the basis of an initial agreement crafted over the summer between Reid and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), which fell apart after Boehner demanded changes to Obamacare as well. And while Democrats want to use that breakdown to reframe the current talks, they also seem open to a short-term deal that keeps sequestration in place with a promise of future negotiations.
"[Reid] gave that [$988 billion offer] to Boehner," Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said on Saturday. "Boehner reneged on that. He rejected that, so we don’t start there. We clear back to a clean state and start where we were before -- that is where the appropriations and the budget negotiations need to start from. [Senate Budget Chairwoman] Patty Murray (D-Wash.) should start from negotiating from our standpoint -- $1.059 trillion. If they want to start from their standpoint, fine."
Asked specifically whether he could stomach continued sequestration for a short period of time, however, Harkin relented. "If we can have a short-term [continuing budget resolution] to get us through, say, the first of December, that is fine with me," he said.