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Connecticut delegation cautiously hopeful shutdown agreement can be reached

By Jennifer McDermott

Published October 14. 2013 4:00PM   Updated October 14. 2013 11:53PM

As the government shutdown entered its third week Monday, members of the state’s congressional delegation said they were hopeful a deal could soon be reached to reopen the government and avoid defaulting on the national debt.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said there is a “strong glimmer of hope” for an agreement on a substantive proposal to reopen the government for at least a short period and to raise the debt ceiling and a prospect for bipartisan cooperation on the larger budget negotiations.

Blumenthal, D-Conn., said he is very hopeful that “rational and sensible minds will prevail.” U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said the chances “are brighter than ever right now” that there will be a bipartisan deal in the Senate, but the question still remains as to whether Speaker John Boehner will allow a vote in the House.

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said he was optimistic, “but not giddy.”

“The reason why I’m optimistic is I do think the external pressure is going to intensify very rapidly as the clock ticks and the markets, in particular, start to really react negatively,” he said.

On Thursday, the government will exhaust its borrowing authority and have only the cash on hand and any incoming revenues to meet its obligations.

Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew warned Congress last week that failing to raise the debt ceiling could be deeply damaging to the financial markets, the ongoing economic recovery and the jobs and savings of millions of Americans. Large payments are due between Oct. 17 and Nov. 1 to Medicare providers, Social Security beneficiaries, veterans and active-duty service members, Lew said in testimony before the Senate Committee on Finance.

Blumenthal said he hopes the Thursday deadline will “impose serious discipline on the sensible minds at the table” since defaulting would precipitate “a global financial meltdown.”

“We’re going to be working with total and complete determination to avoid the catastrophe that would result from America’s failing to pay its debt on time,” he said.

Courtney said the House has been forced to act in the past as deadlines for other fiscal crises neared. Congress should work all night to resolve this crisis, he said, and “not play footsie with Thursday.”

“Even this Congress can react,” he said. “I actually thought last week we had hit that tipping point when Speaker Boehner announced we were not going to default.”

Murphy said the nation “simply cannot default on its debt.”

“The consequence of America defaulting on its debt would be absolutely catastrophic for the country and the world,” he said. “I fully expect the Republicans in the House to come to their senses in the next couple of days.”

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives set up a showdown over the budget by passing a continuing resolution to extend the current government spending that would have also defunded the Affordable Care Act, which Senate leaders have said they will not do. The government closed Oct. 1 because Congress could not agree on a budget or a continuing resolution.

The political risk Boehner faces by calling a vote on a continuing resolution that does not seek to change the Affordable Care Act, and angering some members of his party, has lessened recently as public backlash against this strategy has increased, Courtney said.

In the House, 186 members, including Courtney, signed a petition to reopen the government shortly after it was introduced Saturday. To force a vote on a continuing resolution that would provide funding through Nov. 15 with no policy changes attached, 218 signatures are needed.

The Senate’s Republican and Democratic leaders met on Monday and said they were close to a deal. The president and vice president were scheduled to meet with congressional leaders Monday afternoon, but the meeting was postponed, according to the White House, to give the Senate’s leaders more time for their talks.

“They would rather spend the afternoon working on that deal than traveling back and forth to the White House,” Murphy said. “If they weren’t on the brink of a deal, I think they would’ve made the trip.”

The Senate is the much more functional body right now, Murphy added.

“The House of Representatives is a complete circus,” he said.

The shutdown is costing $300 million a day, and among the numerous effects, it has stalled home and business loans, slowed the processing of veterans’ disability claims, prevented the National Institutes of Health from accepting new patients and suspended life-saving medical research, according to Courtney.

Courtney said he was having trouble thinking of the right word to describe the ripple effects. Eventually he decided on “deplorable.”

Murphy said that every deal under consideration right now is for a relatively short extension of the budget and debt ceiling.

“We need to get the government up and operating again and extend the debt ceiling,” he said. “My hope is that one of these days, we realize we should stop creating budget crises every couple of months.”

Before he returned to Washington on Monday, Blumenthal said he met with about 20 veterans in East Hartford who urged him to reopen the government so their benefits will not be suspended.

“They renewed their expression of urgency to me,” he said. “And I’m going to be taking that sense of urgency and determination into the talks we’re having now.”

j.mcdermott@theday.com

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