Bad blood that could taint a deal to end US debt crisis

Key players must put aside their differences and work together to end the US debt crisis

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 October, 2013, 11:15am

When Washington is in crisis and every other option has fallen to pieces - whether on rescuing Wall Street, rewriting national security rules or agreeing on a budget - the Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are usually the ones who put it all back together.

But if the two wily 70-somethings who are trying to resolve the debt-limit crisis make a deal once again, they will do so despite an increasingly bitter relationship that some say is so fraught with animosity that it endangers their talks.

They were hurt by one another and they have issues that they are carrying, but I know them well enough to believe that that would take a back burner to the moment in history that they find themselves at
Senator Barbara Boxer

The rift traces back to 2010, when Reid thought McConnell wasn't upfront about how aggressively he would try to help defeat the Democrat in his tough re-election race in Nevada. McConnell, now dealing with a difficult campaign of his own in Kentucky, is incensed that Reid appears to be more than returning the favour. In recent years McConnell has gone around Reid to cut deals with Vice-President Joe Biden.

On the Senate floor, their rhetoric has grown so heated that their colleagues recently held the equivalent of an intervention. Off the floor, their relationship has been marked by personal slights.

On Sunday, the two leaders remained far apart. A fleeting afternoon phone call was the only sign of negotiation, although it did prompt Reid to voice a touch of hope. "I'm optimistic about the prospect for a positive conclusion," he said just before he closed up the Senate chamber and left the Capitol.

Still, there was no sign of progress in their stand-off over federal agency budgets, which have emerged as the key hurdle.

Reid and McConnell are viewed as the last best hope of a deal to raise the US borrowing authority above the US$16.7 trillion debt limit. Some friends fear that the relationship has become so frayed that a deal might not materialise before Thursday, when the Treasury runs out of borrowing authority, setting up a potential default by the end of the month.

"There appears to be forces at work here that might cause us to get wrapped around the wheel," said former senator Judd Gregg, who retired in January 2011 after serving 18 years with both men.

Others suggest that the stakes are so high that two men with a combined 56 years of Senate experience will not allow bad blood to get in the way of a deal.

"They were hurt by one another and they have issues that they are carrying, but I know them well enough to believe that that would take a back burner to the moment in history that they find themselves at," said Senator Barbara Boxer, a 21-year veteran.

The deep animosity between Reid, 73, and McConnell, 71, went public this summer, when they clashed over Democratic efforts to amend filibuster rules. McConnell called Reid "the worst leader in the Senate ever", and Reid accused McConnell of a "breach of faith" over an earlier agreement designed to smooth the confirmation process for judicial and executive branch nominees.

Despite the animosity, some senators look at the past six months and see a series of bipartisan legislation - a farm bill, an immigration overhaul, a water infrastructure package - and predict they will do it this time, too.

"They've been able to make deals when it counts," said Senator Amy Klobuchar. "Through all the toxic times, the two of them have shown the capacity to work deals."



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