Two steps forward, one step back.
A surge of optimism on Monday for a possible compromise to end the partial government shutdown and avoid a U.S. default as soon as this week got jolted by the sudden postponement of a White House meeting between President Barack Obama and congressional leaders.
In a brief statement, the White House said the meeting announced earlier in the day was postponed “to allow leaders in the Senate time to continue making important progress” toward a solution. Two hours later, sources in both parties said it was unlikely to happen on Monday.
It was unclear if the development signaled a problem or was needed to give more time for talks between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his Republican counterpart, Mitch McConnell, to finish an agreement that could win approval in the Senate and the House.
Negotiations heated up with the Democratic and Republican leaders signaling progress toward a positive result.
“I’m very optimistic that we will reach an agreement that’s reasonable in nature this week to reopen the government, pay the nation’s bills, and begin long-term negotiation to put our country on sound fiscal footing,” Reid said about an hour before he and other Democratic and GOP leaders were to have met with Obama.
McConnell said he shared Reid’s optimism that “we’re going to get a result that will be acceptable to both sides.”
At the same time, both sides noted that nothing had been finalized.
Now, the postponement of the meeting with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden raised a new question mark in the process.
During a visit Monday to a local food kitchen, Obama cited progress in the Senate negotiations but also warned of what he called continued partisan brinksmanship by House Republicans who “continue to think that somehow they can extract concessions by keeping the government shut down or by threatening default.”
“My hope is a spirit of cooperation will move us forward over the next few hours,” Obama siad.
The political stalemate in Washington caused the government to start shutting down on October 1 because Congress failed to authorize spending for the new fiscal year, which started that day.
Another deadline looms on Thursday, when the Treasury says it will need Congress to raise the debt ceiling so it can borrow more money to pay all the government’s bills.
During his visit to Martha’s Pantry in Washington, Obama said the congressional leaders could “solve this problem today.”
He warned that a default, in which the government would lack enough cash on hand to pay down its debt obligations as well as other daily bills such as Social Security checks “could have a potentially devastating effect on our economy.”
“We’ve already had a damaging effect on our economy because of the shutdown,” he said. “That damage would be greatly magnified if we don’t make sure that government’s paying its bills, and that has to be decided this week.”
Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia told CNN early Monday that a deal was 70% to 80% done, while Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee cited progress in talks with Manchin and other colleagues from both parties.