DC quiet amid rising hopes of deal to end shutdown - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

DC quiet amid rising hopes of deal to end shutdown

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By Michael O'Brien, Carrie Dann and Luke Russert, NBC News

Washington was unusually quiet Friday amid green shoots of optimism that a deal to reopen the government and raise the national debt could be near after 11 days of bluster and blame-placing. 

Republican senators huddled with President Barack Obama for 90 minutes at the White House on Friday as administration staff worked with House GOP staff to hammer out the contours of an agreement that would end the government shutdown and set the stage for broader budgetary talks. 

Perhaps most significantly, most of the harsh rhetoric that had come to define the weeks leading up to the shutdown and the 11 days that have since followed was at a minimum. That few political leaders were speaking publicly could be taken as a sign that negotiations are reaching an especially serious stage.

An aide for House Speaker John Boehner confirmed that the Obama and Boehner spoke by phone Friday as negotiations continued at the staff level. "They agreed that we should all keep talking," the aide said. 

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the two leaders had a "good conversation" and that House Republicans are showing "a recognition that we need to remove default as a weapon in budget negotiations."

Republicans were said to be offering a six-week extension of government borrowing, and perhaps a reinstatement of government funding. The GOP had floated only an extension of the debt limit on Thursday, but the president has demanded both provisions as a precondition for negotiations. 

Carney said Friday that Obama has "a number of concerns" with the short-term extension of the debt limit, saying that a brief delay in the deadline would leave the country with the same "dynamic" of fiscal conflict in another six weeks. But, he added, there are areas where the White House believes agreement can be reached.  

The talks are still at a precarious stage; House Republicans will huddle on Saturday morning to gauge support for the emerging plan, though the details of that plan remain sketchy.

Moreover, Democrats are wary of such a short extension in the debt limit, and Republicans in the Senate may offer their own alternative plan. Obama has nonetheless suggested he could support such a plan.

The politics of resolving the shutdown and averting a default on the national debt remain delicate, though. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, the leader of an effort linking the shutdown to an effort to defund or delay Obamacare, delivered an uncomprimising defense of his strategy mere hours before the Republican meeting with Obama. 

Cruz continues to hold considerable sway among conservatives in Congress, who have broken with Republican leaders on a variety of issues in the past. A campaign by the Texas senator against any emerging compromise threatens to upend the politics of the issue and the chances of advancing a deal by the Oct. 17 deadline by which Congress must authorize the government to borrow more money to finance its existing obligations. 

As the talks play out, an anti-Republican political tide has begun to weigh on GOP lawmakers and fueled their interest in striking a deal. 

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Thursday found that unfavorable opinion of the Republican Party had reached all-time highs, and that 70 percent of Americans disapproved of the way in which Republicans in Congress were handling the budget standoff.

"There's no question it (the poll) catches the attention of politicians on both sides and hopefully focusses them towards a solution," Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said of the impact of the sharply anti-GOP sentiment reflected in the poll.

"Well we read the newspapers, and listen to the press, especially TV," said Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., the chairman of the all-important House Appropriations Committee.

The uncertainty has also made for a roller-coaster ride on Wall Street, as markets ebb and flow as hopes of avoiding a default on the national debt rise and fall.

The renewed negotiations were first sparked by a meeting between Obama and the House GOP leadership team at the White House, and talks continued through the night. But whereas House Republicans emerged from that meeting upbeat about the prospects of a deal, Senate Republicans' optimism was more muted. 

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, called the meeting "another predictable lecture" from Obama. 

Said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who has been working on her own compromise proposal: "It was a good exchange but it was an inconclusive exchange."

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