You have until midnight.
That’s the message Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has conveyed to Senate Republicans. If they want any further input on his debt limit bill, they need to speak up by then. Otherwise, he’ll touch off a process that could result in passage of his plan on the afternoon of August 2.
“I have invited Sen. McConnell to sit down with me and to negotiate in good faith, knowing the clock is running down. I hope he will accept my offer,” Reid said on the Senate floor Friday. “I know the Senate compromise bill Democrats have offered is not perfect in Republican’ eyes. Nor is it perfect for Democrats.”
A Senate leadership aide says McConnell hasn’t taken Reid up on that offer yet. Even if he does, Democrats are counting on Republicans to maximize procedural delays, so have settled on the following process.
Whether or not Republicans ask Reid to tweak his bill or not, he will file cloture on his plan (or perhaps a slightly amended version) by midnight tonight.
Senate rules require Reid to allow one full day, and one hour, before he can hold the first test vote on the plan — a cloture vote on the motion to proceed. He would thus call the Senate into session at 12:01 a.m. Sunday morning, and hold the vote at 1 a.m. If he gets 60 votes for the plan, he has to wait 30 hours before he can hold the next test vote — to end debate on the bill. That 60-threshold vote would happen at about 7 a.m. Monday. If that works, he has to wait another 30 hours, before finally passing his bill in an up-or-down vote Tuesday at about 1 p.m.
Then it would be in the House’s hands, where the question is: Can the extremely weakened Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) muster enough GOP votes for Reid’s plan to pass it on a bipartisan basis? They’d have until just after midnight on Wednesday, when Treasury believes they’ll run out of borrowing authority.
This process could be curtailed a bit. Boehner’s bill should pass sometime Friday, and he can send it directly to Reid. It’s a non-starter in the Senate, and Reid would demonstrate that with a quick vote to table it. But he can use it as a privileged vehicle to avoid the first test vote on the motion to proceed. That would take 30 hours off the clock — but some Republicans would like to see Boehner withhold his bill, to force Reid to jump through all the hoops. Either contingency requires everything to happen precisely as planned — and we’re still looking at coming down to the wire.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.