The Democratic and Republican Senate leaders tried to outmaneuver each other Thursday in a bid to gain political traction over President Obama's call for a permanent increase in the debt ceiling -- in the latest sign of how that demand has complicated negotiations over the looming fiscal crisis.
The political dance started a day earlier, when Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell tried to call a vote on Obama's fiscal plan which included granting the White House the ability to approve automatic increases in the debt ceiling. Democratic Leader Harry Reid blocked it, allowing McConnell to suggest even Democrats don't want Obama's plan to pass.
But then Reid turned around Thursday and proposed calling a vote in the afternoon on the debt-ceiling plan. Reid, though, wanted to call a simple majority vote -- McConnell objected, saying a 60-vote threshold was warranted. Reid in turn objected to that, and the entire vote was scuttled again.
Democrats emerged claiming McConnell had shot down his own proposal, though the proposal was actually Obama's.
The political posturing, though, did little to advance talks over the looming fiscal crisis, which were already held up over the issue of tax hikes. The White House and congressional Republicans continue to be at loggerheads over whether to raise tax rates on households making more than $250,000 as part of a deal to avoid indiscriminate and across-the-board tax hikes and spending cuts next month.
But Obama's latest demand on the debt ceiling has only complicated the already-shaky talks.
Even before McConnell and Reid began to trade jabs, Republican lawmakers sought to prove that the provision wouldn't clear the Senate. As of Wednesday evening, 43 senators had signed a letter to Obama opposing the debt-limit proposal. That represents enough votes to block the measure from passing.
"The Congress is ready to work with you as equal partners in addressing the coming fiscal cliff," Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and 42 other senators wrote. "We agree that Washington must rein in the debt, which is one reason we strongly oppose your proposal to eliminate Congress' role in establishing a federal debt limit."
They continued: "We believe that preserving Congress' role in setting the debt limit is necessary to encourage deficit reduction and uphold our constitutional tradition of legislative control over borrowing."
The letter was signed exclusively by Republicans.