Sen. Schumer optimistic that Senate negotiators can end the government shutdown

(CBS News) New York Sen. Charles Schumer, the number three Democrat in the Senate, said on "Face the Nation" Sunday that he's "cautiously hopeful" there will be an agreement to end the government shutdown and raise the nation's debt ceiling.

Schumer is part of a bipartisan group of senators including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. that met Saturday to negotiate an end to the crisis. While Schumer said he could not get into details, "the frameworks they each had were not that far apart. ... With the president, with Senate Democrats, with Senate Republicans, there's a will. We now have to find a way. We know the House won't find that way."

Schumer pointed to the looming cuts mandated by the sequester as a way to spark an agreement. Both Democrats and Republican want to undo the cuts, Schumer said, but in different ways: Republicans hope to replace the cuts to defense programs and other areas with entitlement cuts, and Democrats want to mix entitlement cuts and new revenues. He suggested that a bill that opened up the government until Jan. 15, when the sequester cuts take place, could lead to discussions.

"I am more optimistic than most we could come to an agreement. That was one place where the House Republicans and the president were not at total loggerheads," Schumer said. "The plan would be open up the government immediately for a period of time before the sequester hits and then have serious discussions where we might be able to undo the sequester. I'm optimistic that could work."

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said that the sequester was indeed a sticking point in talks. "I'm very worried about the devastation to our military and our defense. But at the same time, we do have to rein in spending," he said.

Though McCain said he was glad negotiations had started, Senate Republicans argue there is a lack of leadership from the White House. In particular, they are frustrated that President Obama rejected a plan from Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, that would have raised the debt ceiling through January, reopened the government through March and repealed the medical device tax in the health care law. McCain even suggested that "we need to get [Vice President] Joe Biden out of the witness protection program" to help broker a deal, a reference to Biden's relative absence from the negotiations and the fact that he helped broker the agreement to avert the so-called "fiscal cliff" at the start of 2013.

Senate Democrats rejected Collins' plan Saturday, arguing there was not enough in it for Democrats and Republicans to agree on. "They're not doing us any a favor by reopening the government," Reid on Saturday. "They're not doing us a favor by extending the debt ceiling. That's part of our jobs. That's why we've said open the government, let us pay our bills and we need to do that before we have any agreement on what goes after that."

The Collins plan, he added, "is not going to anyplace at this stage."

McCain expressed disappointment with Reid's response. "Twice they were close to a deal and the Democrats moved the goalpost in light of the polling data," he said. "I'm very disappointed that the president of the United States has not played a more active role in this, as Bill Clinton did back in '95."

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said she thought Collins' plan had brought them close to an agreement, but that the president was giving them "a zero-sum response."

"It's time to get out of our trenches and resolve this, and we need presidential leadership," she said. But Schumer said that the debt ceiling needs to be raised for a longer period of time than any of the Republican plans have offered. The House Republicans, for example, offered a clean six-week raising of the debt ceiling.

When Schieffer asked Ayotte whether she believed the government would default this week, she said, "we can't do that."

But that's not an attitude shared among the entire Congress. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., said, the White House was merely "trying to scare the markets" by warning of a default.

"The reality is October 17 is a date that will not have a major impact unless the White House is able to create concern about that but the real concern is not raising the debt ceiling, Bob. ... They're spending too much money in Washington."

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for