Susan Davis and David Jackson, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - Negotiations to end the government shutdown and avert default continued Friday as Senate Republicans huddled with President Obama privately to discuss a possible pathway out of the impasse.
"The question is: Can you get something in the next 72 hours? The president seems committed to being engaged in it, and he hadn't been up to this point, so I'm optimistic," said Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., following the meeting.
House and Senate Republicans appear to be pursuing different negotiations with the White House, and it is unclear whether either proposal can win over Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who is leading congressional Democrats in the negotiations.
Democrats have resisted GOP efforts, led by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to engage in budget talks until the government is reopened and the debt ceiling is increased before the Oct. 17 deadline.
Boehner and Obama spoke by phone Friday afternoon, but reached no deal. "The president and the speaker spoke by telephone a few minutes ago. They agreed that we should all keep talking." said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.
White House spokesman Jay Carney confirmed the telephone call, and said "it was a good conversation."
The shutdown, now in its 11th day, began when Republicans demanded a delay or defunding of the Affordable Care Act in exchange for their votes to keep the government running.
The funding discussion has now snowballed to include a plan to increase the U.S. borrowing limit so the nation can continue to pay its bills on time. Republicans have since moved on from focusing solely on the health care law to seeking broader concessions on fiscal issues.
Congress will continue to work through the weekend. House Republicans will huddle Saturday morning and the Senate is scheduled to vote on a key procedural hurdle to move forward with a 15-month increase in the debt ceiling with no conditions attached.
House Republicans have offered a short-term path to resolve the shutdown and avert default in order to reach a broader budget deal, while Senate Republicans appear to be mulling longer-term solutions in order to reach an agreement. Boehner has offered a proposal to extend the debt limit for six weeks, but Carney said Obama believes that is too short a time frame, and creates the possibility of another standoff right before the Thanksgiving and holiday shopping seasons.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is working with senators in both parties on a budget framework that includes a six-month stopgap funding bill and suspends the debt ceiling through January. The extensions would give Congress breathing room to reach a broader budget agreement.
"I believe that still gives us plenty of leverage to work out a long-term fiscal plan, but it removes the threat of an immediate default," Collins said Friday.
Multiple Senate Republicans said the conversation with the president did not include the competing House proposal that would increase the debt ceiling for six weeks.
Republicans have also proposed a short-term stopgap spending bill to reopen the government after Obama rejected their proposal for only a debt ceiling increase.
Senate Republicans seemed more inclined to support a framework with longer-term agreements than House Republicans are seeking, suggesting a divide between the two chambers on the way forward. "I think everybody agrees that the length of time dictates the framework of what's in the agreement, so you don't get as much for a shorter term and you get more for a longer term," Burr said.
Senate Republicans seem eager to resolve the impasse. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., cited a "devastating" NBC/WSJ polled released Thursday which showed the Republican Party's favorability at an all-time low. "I know that they're reading the polls," McCain said of House Republicans.
McCain has been a vocal critic of the GOP's strategy in the shutdown fight, particularly their efforts to dismantle the president's health care law. The senator said the negotiations are lagging because of Obama's wariness of House Republicans.
"The president is very reluctant to commit to anything because he has to deal with the House of Representatives, but I'm encouraged by the attitude that's been displayed," McCain said. "He sees progress, but we're a long way from (a deal.)"