Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is surrounded by reporters as he leaves the Senate floor Oct. 12, 2013.(Photo: Charles Dharapak, AP)
WASHINGTON - House Republicans stepped back from budget negotiations Saturday, leaving the Senate to take the lead on reopening the federal government and avoiding a default on the nation's debt.
At a meeting of House Republicans on Saturday morning, top leaders said they have no new proposal to offer the White House after President Obama rejected their offer.
"I'm disappointed that the president has rejected the offer that we put on the table. I know that he's trying to see which Republican senator he can pick off in the Senate. I hope that the Senate Republicans stand strong so we can speak with one voice," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., after the meeting.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., said Obama would rather deal with the Senate because the House has a tougher negotiating position.
"It's now up to the Senate Republicans to stand up," said Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho.
Senate Republicans and Democrats huddled in separate private meetings on Saturday as senators in both parties were engaged in active negotiations on and off the Senate floor.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., are also engaging more seriously in talks as the nation hit the 12th day of a partial government shutdown, and five days before an Oct. 17 default deadline.
Reid dismissed House Republicans on the Senate floor Saturday, and said negotiations between the House GOP and the White House have stalled. "That's over with. It's done. They're not talking anymore."
Reid is pushing a simple 15-month extension of the debt ceiling, but in a Saturday test vote, Reid's proposal did not get enough votes to bring it to the Senate floor. Reid needed 60 votes to bring the measure to the floor for debate, but only 53 senators voted to proceed.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has been working with senators in both parties on a budget framework that includes a six-month stopgap funding bill through March and a debt ceiling increase through January. The extensions would give Congress breathing room to reach a broader budget agreement.
"I'm trying to give the House a serious option to consider. And that's been one of my goals since their first strategy was clearly a very flawed one. And so I hope that they'll take a look look at this," Collins said.
She added, "What we had was this absolute stalemate where people weren't talking to each other. So my plan is still subject to a lot of negotiations and discussions but at least it's gotten the conversation going."
Senate Democrats have not embraced Collins' framework, but negotiations were ongoing. Democrats want a higher top-line spending figure than the current $986 billion federal funding level currently embraced by Republicans.
The past few days have seen a flurry of negotiations between the White House and Congress as the Oct. 17 deadline on the nation's debt limit approaches. The Treasury Department has said that without congressional action to raise the debt ceiling, it will be unable to pay the nation's bills after that date.
The government has also been partially shutdown because Congress has been unable to pass a spending bill to provide a budget for the new fiscal year that began Oct. 1.
House Republicans had refused to act on the spending bill without an agreement to suspend or defund the president's signature health care law. Democrats said they would not negotiate until after the bills were passed.
Over the past few days, President Obama has held separate meetings with the Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate.
Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, had suggested a six-week extension of the debt ceiling, and Obama said he was open to the idea but wanted the government to be reopened as well.
President Obama told business leaders on a conference call Friday that he hoped a deal could be struck this weekend, but lawmakers were not optimistic that a final deal would be reached this weekend.
Reid emphasized Saturday that it could be catastrophic for financial markets to reopen next week with no deal done and the threat of U.S. default looming. "Everyone will lose. Not only in America, but around the world."