WASHINGTON - With the government shutdown now in its 12th day and talks between the White House and House Republicans broken off, all eyes on Capitol Hill are focused on the Senate, where the potential for a deal to break the budget impasse could emerge in the coming days.
President Obama phoned House Speaker John Boehner Friday afternoon to reject the House Republicans' offer to suspend the debt limit for six weeks and establish a process for deficit reduction negotiations to begin.
House Republicans trickling out of a conference meeting this morning in the Capitol indicated the House is not going to act until the Senate comes up with a solution.
"No deal as far as we're concerned," Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said as he quickly left the meeting.
Rep. Raul Labrador also blew past cameras, telling reporters "it's now all up to Senate."
"The president is freezing out America and we'll do everything we can to make the point that we wanted to negotiate and he took no offer," Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., added. "It doesn't appear as though the president wants anything except more tax revenue, more tax increases yet again."
The Senate voted against a motion today to proceed to a Democratic bill that would have extended the debt limit with no strings attached until Dec. 31, 2014. The vote, which required 60 votes to pass, failed in a party-line tally, 53-45.
Asked if he thinks there will be an alternate plan later today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, "I doubt it."
But in developments that senators are characterizing as a possible sign of potential progress, Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are finally talking about finding a solution to the fiscal battle.
"They're talking to each other for the first time in the last 24 hours, and I think that's a good thing," Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said.
"Until yesterday, Reid and McConnell weren't even negotiating, so that's at least a positive step," Sen Bob. Corker, R-Tenn., added.
Another proposal being floated around by a bipartisan group of senators would extend the debt limit until Jan. 31, 2014, and reopen the government for six months.
The framework, initially crafted by Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, also delays the medical device tax for two years, provides agencies with flexibility to deal with sequestration, and requires income verification for insurance exchanges.
One component in the proposal that is still under discussion is a call for a budget conference by Jan. 15, 2014.
At least one Democrat - Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. - is working with Collins on the plan, a spokesman for Manchin said.
A resolution to reopen the government is now unlikely to be reached until Tuesday at the earliest. The House is not expected to meet on Sunday, and votes on Monday are not scheduled until 6:30 p.m. With legislative business concluded for the weekend, most members will head home to their districts for the next 48 hours.
House Speaker John Boehner, however, will stay in Washington to monitor developments but does not have any plans to meet with the president, according to a senior Republican aide.
Friday, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy downplayed budding concern that Senate Republicans could break from the House GOP's strategy, particularly since the GOPers in the upper chamber have signaled they'd like to reopen government at the same time the debt limit is suspended.
"If you studied history, majorities have more power than minorities," said McCarthy, R-Calif., said.
Today, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor urged Republican Senators to stick with House Republicans.
"Right now I'm hoping that the Senate stands strong," said Cantor, R-Va. "We as Republicans can speak with one voice on behalf of all the Americans that we want to relieve the pain that they're going through."