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Congress in ‘fluid’ talks with Obama to end shutdown

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washingtonon Oct. 11 after Republican senators return to the Capitol following a meeting at the White House with President Obama. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite, AP)WASHINGTON — Negotiations to end the government shutdown and avert default continued into the weekend as House and Senate Republicans traded offers among themselves and with the White House in efforts to find a pathway out of the impasse.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the president and Congress are "obviously in a better place than we were a few days ago in terms of the constructive approach that we've seen of late" but there was still no agreement. "We're talking about a very fluid situation."
President Obama told business leaders on a conference call Friday that he hoped a deal could be struck this weekend. The president also spoke with 25 governors from both parties.
After a meeting Friday at the White House between Obama and Senate Republicans, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., said, "The question is: Can you get something in the next 72 hours? The president seems committed to being engaged in it, and he hadn't been up to this point, so I'm optimistic."
House and Senate Republicans appear to be pursuing different negotiations with the White House, and it is unclear whether any proposal can win over Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who leads congressional Democrats in the talks.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have been in communication but James Lankford, R-Okla., said House and Senate Republicans are "working independent" of each other.
"There's not the sense of 'Let's the two of us have the exact same plan and try to work together,'" Lankford said.
Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., met separately with McConnell and Boehner on Friday and told reporters they were hopeful the House would move first. "I think the House going first would be the best thing. That would be the preferred outcome," Graham said.
Democrats have resisted GOP efforts, led by Boehner, to engage in budget talks until the government is reopened and the debt ceiling is increased in advance of the Oct. 17 deadline.
Boehner and Obama spoke by phone Friday afternoon but reached no agreement except to keep talking.
The shutdown, in its 11th day, began when Republicans demanded a delay or defunding of the Affordable Care Act in exchange for their votes to keep the government running. The funding discussion has become entwined with proposals to increase the U.S. borrowing limit so the nation can continue to pay its bills on time. Republicans have moved on from focusing on the health care law and seek broader concessions on fiscal issues.
Congress will continue to work through the weekend. House Republicans will huddle Saturday morning, and the Senate is scheduled to vote on a key procedural hurdle to move forward with a 15-month increase in the debt ceiling with no conditions attached.
Boehner has offered a proposal to extend the debt limit for six weeks, but Carney said Obama believes that is too short a time frame and creates the possibility of another standoff right before the Thanksgiving and holiday shopping seasons.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is working with senators in both parties on a budget framework that includes a six-month stopgap funding bill through March and a debt ceiling increase through January. The extensions would give Congress breathing room to reach a broader budget agreement.
"I believe that still gives us plenty of leverage to work out a long-term fiscal plan, but it removes the threat of an immediate default," Collins said Friday.
House Republicans have also proposed a short-term stopgap spending bill to reopen the government after Obama rejected their proposal for only a debt ceiling increase.
Senate Republicans seemed more inclined to support a framework with longer-term time agreements than House Republicans seek, suggesting a divide between the two chambers on the way forward. "I think everybody agrees that the length of time dictates the framework of what's in the agreement, so you don't get as much for a shorter term and you get more for a longer term," Burr said.
Some Republicans seem eager to resolve the impasse. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., cited a "devastating" NBC/Wall Street Journal polled released Thursday which showed the Republican Party's favorable rating at an all-time low. "I know that they're reading the polls," McCain said of House Republicans.
McCain has been a vocal critic of the GOP's strategy in the shutdown fight, particularly their efforts to dismantle the president's health care law. The senator said the negotiations are lagging because of Obama's wariness of House Republicans.
"The president is very reluctant to commit to anything because he has to deal with the House of Representatives, but I'm encouraged by the attitude that's been displayed," McCain said. "He sees progress, but we're a long way from (a deal.)"

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