A bipartisan group of senators organized by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) met for two hours Monday morning, as talks intensified over ways to end the government shutdown and lift the debt ceiling three days before a deadline that could trigger a U.S. default.
After briefing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) Monday morning, Collins said the group was making progress — but added that the focus must remain on discussions that are underway between McConnell and Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.).
“We continue to discuss the parameters of an agreement,” Collins said. “But there really is a focus on the leadership right now.”
McConnell and Reid were meeting in McConnell’s office at midday. The White House said both leaders, and their counterparts from the House, would sit down with President Obama and Vice President Biden at 3 p.m.
Collins refused to give details of how lawmakers and the White House might bridge the differences over spending that have triggered major rifts, both between the political parties and branches of government and within them.
“We’re on dates and times. We’re working on specifics,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who is part of the group. “We have outlines of what we think. We still have some differences.”
U.S. financial markets fell slightly in morning trading but then seemed to stabilize. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index and the Dow Jones industrial average each dropped about 0.5 percent in the first 90 minutes of trading, then regained about half that amount. In a more telling sign of market sentiment, the Vix, a measure of expected future volatility in stock markets, soared 12.4 percent.
Bond markets were closed for the Columbus Day holiday. But in recent days investors have sold off short-term Treasury bills maturing later in October, fearful that there could be disruptions that prevent the government from making good on its obligations.
Evolution of the standoff
The entrenched dispute over government spending began with a battle over whether to link funding for the basic operations to changes in President Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act. It morphed last week into a fight over extending the debt ceiling, which is the government’s ability to borrow money to pay for bills it has incurred.
Two weeks into the federal government shutdown, with the possibility of an U.S. default looming, the disagreement has expanded to include the issue of broader cuts in existing programs and changes to the mandatory curbs in spending known as the sequester.
“I’m ashamed, and I want to apologize to the American people,” Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) told CNN, describing Congress’s seeming inability to forge an agreement. “This is not what I signed up for.”
The plan being cobbled together by Collins’s group focused on ending the shutdown and raising the $ 16.7 trillion debt limit. But Senate Democrats, emboldened by deep divisions among House Republicans and poll data showing the GOP bearing the brunt of the blame for the impasse, rejected the initial proposal because it would allow a new round of sequester cuts to take effect in January.
A senior aide to Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii) told his colleagues late last month that the nation’s top drug lobby had agreed to run a campaign supporting the congresswoman’s challenge to Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz and wanted to coordinate it with her strategists.
Such an effort, described in an e-mail obtained by The Washington Post, could run afoul of campaign finance laws, which prohibit candidates and their staff from substantial discussions with interest groups about their independent political activities.
Officials with the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and Hanabusa’s campaign denied that the group had offered to run such an effort but acknowledged talks about a possible fundraiser for Hanabusa and about the state of the race in general.
Campaign officials blamed the e-mail on a misinformed staffer.
“He made inaccurate assumptions about the type of help PhRMA could provide the campaign,” campaign spokesman Peter Boylan said.
Matt Bennett, a spokesman for PhRMA, said officials there did not offer to do a campaign on Hanabusa’s behalf. But he said the group had “preliminary” discussions about hosting an industry fundraiser for Hanabusa through its political action committee.
He also said that a PhRMA lobbyist had spoken with Jennifer Sabas, a top Hanabusa campaign adviser, but that they had only talked about the state of the Democratic primary campaign in Hawaii.
“They discussed the race and what’s happening on the ground,” Bennett said.
Boylan echoed that, saying Sabas did not provide PhRMA with any information “that would constitute coordination in violation of the law.”
But Clay Schroers, Schatz’s campaign manager, said the arrangement the e-mail outlines “is a deeply troubling situation, and Rep. Hanabusa clearly owes the people of Hawaii an explanation.”
The e-mail was sent June 28 from the Gmail account of Hanabusa’s deputy chief of staff, Christopher Raymond, to Sabas, Boylan and Rod Tanonaka, the congresswoman’s chief of staff. The Post obtained it from a person who received a copy and requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the contents.
The message described a practice that is often suspected but rarely revealed: interest groups coordinating their putatively independent efforts with the candidates they are backing.
“As I’m sure you have heard, PhRMA has committed to pulling together an independent expenditure on CH’s behalf,” Raymond wrote. “Nick Shipley (Government Relations VP) and Bob Phillipone [sic] (Senior VP) are the leads on this and would like to be put in touch with folks on the campaign. After having talked with Nick about this a little more, and based on our discussion, I came to the conclusion that is it the three of you the [sic] he would like to be in touch with. I am going to give him your email address so he can be in touch. I didn’t feel comfortable giving out your phone numbers.
“Should you be contacted by Nick or Bob please know they are good democrats,” he concluded.
Boylan said that soon after the e-mail was sent, Raymond and other staffers were reminded that it was inappropriate to communicate with groups about independent expenditures.
- December 2013
- November 2013
- October 2013
- September 2013
- August 2013
- July 2013
- June 2013
- May 2013
- April 2013
- March 2013
- February 2013
- January 2013
- December 2012
- November 2012
- October 2012
- September 2012
- August 2012
- July 2012
- June 2012
- May 2012
- April 2012
- March 2012
- February 2012
- January 2012
- December 2011
- November 2011
- October 2011
- September 2011
- August 2011
- July 2011
- June 2011
- May 2011
- April 2011
- March 2011
- February 2011
- January 2011
- December 2010
- November 2010
- September 2001