In phone calls and a White House session, President
But the task of sealing a deal was complicated by division between
Still, for the first time in the 11-day shutdown, lawmakers expressed optimism that a deal could be reached in the next several days. Meanwhile, the calendar crept closer to Oct. 17, when the
"I just have a sense over the weekend some significant jelling is going to take place," Sen.
The qualified hopefulness was a striking shift after days of deadlock in Washington. The two parties have traded barbs and charges of extortion, while many government services remained closed. Federal workers in some agencies received partial paychecks Friday, reflecting the first week of furloughs.
Under pressure to avoid a default and watching the standoff take a toll on their public approval numbers, Republicans on Thursday offered to extend the debt limit for six weeks, dropping their refusal to lift it before the president committed to negotiations over the budget. Late Thursday, after more discussions with the White House, Republicans added a proposal to reopen the government — at least temporarily.
The House GOP proposal would launch a two-track negotiation over at least the next six weeks, officials said.
On one track, in return for temporarily lifting the debt ceiling, Republicans want a series of talks focused on tax reform, as well as cuts to Medicare and other entitlement programs.
On the second track, House Republicans would reopen the government if the White House agreed to talks on spending levels for the current fiscal year, which started Oct. 1.
Both parties would like to make changes to the next round of across-the-board cuts, the so-called
But House Republicans were still insisting on an upfront concession from the president before they moved to reopen the government. Late Friday, House Republicans were still debating what that might be, but it could include slight changes to the healthcare law. Senate Republicans, meanwhile, proposed their own endgame.
Congressional Democrats seemed content to sit back and allow Republicans to argue among themselves, betting that, with the GOP increasingly anxious to end the standoff, Democrats' leverage will only increase as the debt-limit deadline draws closer.
Senate Majority Leader
Friday, however, saw no legislative progress, only deliberations behind closed doors.
Senate Republicans boarded buses for a midday meeting at the White House. During the 100-minute session, Sen.
federal agencies the flexibility to manage the sequester budget cuts imposed by Congress early this year.
Collins said Obama liked some of her proposal but was noncommittal. "He described it as constructive and having elements of it that could be worked on, but I don't want to give the impression that he endorsed it and said, 'What a great plan,'" she said.
House Republicans opposed Collins' plan, arguing that it cedes too much control over the budget to the president. That split has left Obama in a negotiation triangle with Republicans in the two chambers. It was not immediately clear whether the White House would embrace either Republican proposal.
White House Press Secretary
Obama has said he would sign a short-term debt ceiling extension, but Carney stressed that such a deal would keep the president from achieving his key objective: ending the cycle of repeated budget crises.
"We cannot have a situation where the debt ceiling is extended as part of a budget negotiation process for only six weeks, which would put us right back in the same position that we're in now," Carney said.
On that front, there was some bipartisan agreement.
A six-week debt limit extension "doesn't make a lot of sense," said Sen.
"I think there is a majority of the House and Senate that realizes it is time to get the government back open," he said.
Isakson, who helped organize dinners at the White House to discuss the country's debt burden, said Friday's meeting was a "good exchange of ideas." Obama was "very engaged" and "candid," he said.
After weeks of trading tortured metaphors and allegations of hostage-taking, the rhetoric on both sides softened. That was perhaps the clearest sign of progress.
"It was the kind of meeting you'd expect when you are starting to get down to business," Isakson said, adding that there was "no showboating."
At the White House, Carney called the talks constructive. "There needs to be continuing discussions," he said, "and we'll see where we get."