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Senate leaders optimistic about possible shutdown deal

  • Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., is surrounded by reporters after leaving the office of Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ken., on Capitol Hill on Monday, Oct. 14, 2013 in Washington. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON — Racing the clock, the Senate's Democratic and Republican leaders closed in on a deal Monday night to avoid an economy-menacing Treasury default and end the two-week partial government shutdown.

"We've made tremendous progress," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared after an intense day of negotiations with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and other lawmakers. "Perhaps tomorrow will be a bright day," he said, suggesting agreement could be announced soon after weeks of stubborn gridlock.

McConnell also voiced optimism — although not as much as Reid, D-Nev., had — and the details under discussion generated little if any satisfaction among rebellious House conservatives.

Officials said that in the discussion to date, the $16.7 trillion federal debt limit would be raised enough to permit the Treasury to borrow normally until mid-February, if not a few weeks longer.

The government would reopen with enough money to operate until mid-January at levels set previously, and agencies would be given flexibility in adjusting to reduced funding levels imposed by across-the-board spending cuts.

Officials cautioned that those details could change, and there was even more uncertainty about other elements of a possible deal.

Under discussion was a one-year delay in a $63 fee imposed on companies by the health care law known as Obamacare for everyone covered by an employer-sponsored plan. By day's end, though, Republican opposition to the provision placed it in jeopardy — just as Democrats had earlier pushed back against the proposed repeal of a medical device tax contained in the health care law.

The two sides were also discussing a requirement that individuals seeking subsidies under the health care law to pay for coverage would be subject to stronger income verification measures.

The government has been partly closed since Oct. 1, and the Obama administration says the Treasury will run out of borrowing authority to fully pay the nation's bills on Thursday.

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