Tue., October 15, 2013 12:00pm (EDT)

Tuesday Morning Political Mix
By Liz Halloran
Updated: 6 months ago

Good morning from Washington, D.C., your nation's capital, where we are now into Day 15 of your government's shutdown and counting down to your government's looming default on its debt.

Yes, we all wish we were still in bed with the pillow over our head. (Even, we imagine, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who told The Wall Street Journal that military readiness is being damaged by the budget standoff.)

Dire? There is little argument, except from the most ardent default-is-no-big-deal fringe.

Chinese leaders, grasping the opportunity handed them, in a weekend commentary in their state-run news agency advised a "befuddled world to start considering building a de-Americanized world."

Even the much publicized White House garden has taken a hit from Washington inaction, its veggies literally rotting on the vine. Insert metaphor here.

But, dear readers, the buzz-phrase for Tuesday: "Congressional leaders near agreement on framework for a bipartisan deal."

Here's how The New York Times characterized the situation:

WASHINGTON While Republican senators prepared to meet on Tuesday morning to hear from their leadership about a potential deal with Democrats that could reopen the government and lift the threat of an American default by raising the debt ceiling, House Republicans tempered their demands to scale back President Obama's health care law, announcing that they would soon vote on a proposal meant to counteract a less conservative plan coming from the Senate.

House Republicans today will head into a 9 a.m. closed door conference meeting to discuss Senate developments that reports say would lift the nation's borrowing power through the first week in February and provide for a resolution to finance the government until Jan. 15. Long-term budget and tax fixes are also said to be part of the conversation, perhaps even some "modest items" related to the Affordable Care Act, Fox News tells us. One possibility: requiring income verification for health care subsidies, a concession many House Republicans see as weak tea.

A warning, however, precedes today's meetings. Even if Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell come up with a deal, passage is far from a sure thing in the fractious, GOP-controlled House. Jonathan Strong, writing in the National Review, says that "even a deal cut by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is no fait accompli in the House ..." And Strong brings up the tricky timing of the whole endeavor, suggesting that even if the Senate begins work on today on a debt-ceiling bill, it could take until Saturday to get passed. "In that time," he says, during which Thursday's debt-ceiling deadline hits, "(GOP House Speaker John) Boehner could go on offense."

There remains much uncertainty about what rogue Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas may have up his sleeve to stop or delay any plan that doesn't gut Obamacare. Joshua Green of Bloomberg says Cruz has a couple of options, including dragging out Senate debate. And Roll Call reported that Cruz met into the wee hours Monday with a group of House Republicans in the basement of a Capitol Hill restaurant.

We have found the Congressional Budget Office's primer on the debt limit helpful in recent weeks. Here's a quick explainer about the current debt limit:

The current statutory limit on total debt issued by the Treasury is just under $16.7 trillion. The No Budget, No Pay Act of 2013 (Public Law 113-3) suspended the debt ceiling from February 4, 2013, through May 18, 2013. The act also specified that the amount of borrowing that occurred during that period should be added to the previous debt limit of $16.394 trillion. On May 19, the limit was reset to reflect the cumulative borrowing through May 18 and now stands at $16.699 trillion.

Because the No Budget, No Pay Act provided no additional borrowing authority above the amount of debt that had already been issued as of May 18, the Treasury has no room under the newly established limit to increase total borrowing. Therefore, to avoid a breach of that limit, the Treasury has begun employing its well-established toolbox of so-called extraordinary measures to allow continued borrowing for a limited time. As it reported in May, CBO projects that those measures will be exhausted in either October or November of this year.

As Congress continues to work on its "framework for a bipartisan deal," here are a few other stories we're watching:

Federal prosecutors plan to bring a captured Libyan terrorism suspect before a New York judge today, what the Los Angeles Times' David Savage says is a "marked a departure from what had become the norm for dealing with suspected terrorists over the last 12 years."

There are new revelations about the National Security Agency collecting millions of contact lists from instant messaging and personal email accounts, including, the Washington Post's Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani write, many belonging to Americans.

The information is from senior intelligence officials and from top-secret documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. A key finding: Each day, the Washington Post reports, the NSA collects contacts from an estimated 500,000 buddy lists on live-chat services as well as from the inbox displays of Web-based e-mail accounts.

We're keeping on eye on New Jersey, where Wednesday Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a Democrat, will face off against Republican Steve Lonegan for the U.S. Senate seat that become vacant when frank Lautenberg died in June. Polls show Booker with a comfortable lead.

Here's NPR's Nina Totenberg's look at an affirmative action case out of Michigan that Supreme Court justices are hearing today.

And, finally, we loved this New York Times story on how President Taft grappled with his heft.

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