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Monday, November 19, 2018

Washington (AFP) – President Barack Obama met Republican senators Friday to kick around ideas for ending Washington’s fiscal showdown, but a deal to stave off default or reopen the U.S. government remained elusive.

Lawmakers expressed optimism that, while the mechanics of a solution are unclear, both sides are committed to act, just six days before the deadline for Congress to increase U.S. borrowing authority.

Talks were also taking place between Obama’s top aides and House Republican leaders on a temporary truce which would hike the debt ceiling for six weeks, and on the president’s demand for an end to a partial government shutdown.

Republicans from the lower house have offered to talk to Obama about a short-term resolution to fund the government, and then to move to long term budget and fiscal talks.

But the president insists he will not negotiate until both the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling is raised and the government, partially shuttered on October 1 when Congress failed to provide an operating budget, is reopened.

A plan advanced by Republican Senator Susan Collins would raise the borrowing authority for a longer period, fund the government and repeal a tax on medical devices introduced under Obama’s health care law — as an incentive to get conservative Republicans on board.

With negotiations ongoing, the White House is yet to definitively weigh in on either plan, other than to restate Obama’s core position.

Republican senators emerged from the White House talks into a rainstorm, and told reporters they were optimistic.

Arizona Senator Jeff Flake said there had been a “good talk” but no deal was reached.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he was “confident that in the next 24 to 48 hours the House will produce a continuing resolution that will allow the government to be open in total.”

Senator Mike Johanns added: “everybody is talking to everybody now, and I’m encouraged by that.”

The intensifying contact reflected the proximity of the October 17 deadline, moves by both sides to find a face-saving exit strategy, and new polls showing the Republicans’ image taking a battering.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid signaled that Democrats were driving a hard bargain.

He suggested holding out for a debt ceiling hike for more than six weeks, to avoid a similar round of brinkmanship in the run-up to the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday period — the peak spending period for many consumers.