WASHINGTON (USATODAY.com) - After several days of on again-off again negotiations at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, the fiscal crisis gripping Washington now hangs on whether two men can broker a deal: The Senate Republican and Democratic leaders.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., closed Sunday's Senate session saying he was "optimistic" that talks he has been having with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., can lead to an end of the federal government shutdown and an increase in the nation's debt limit.
Many in the Capitol are looking to the talks between Reid and McConnell as the last, best hope for a deal after the House of Representatives abandoned talks Saturday morning. The two met Saturday, and Reid said they would continue talking throughout the day Sunday to seek a resolution.
"Americans want Congress to do its job. ... That's all they're asking us to do," Reid said. "I'm confident and hopeful that will be accomplished."
McConnell could be the one to cut a deal, according to Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.
"Republicans are very unified behind McConnell," Corker said. "We probably have one or two outliers, but other than that, people are really unified behind him taking the lead on these negotiations."
Reid and Corker's optimism, however, didn't seem universally shared. Two Republican senators said a deal to end the partial government shutdown and raise the debt limit to avoid default appears unlikely.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said on ABC's This Week that a Democratic proposal to increase spending beyond limits set by automatic budget cuts - known as sequestration -- cannot be supported by Republicans.
He doesn't anticipate a deal by the Oct. 17 deadline, when the nation's debt limit kicks in.
"I don't see one," Graham said. "If you break spending caps, you're not going to get any Republicans in the Senate."
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., agreed, saying on CNN's State of the Union that exceeding the sequestration limits is "a real big step in the wrong direction."
Some top Democrats were just as pessimistic.
David Plouffe, a former senior adviser to President Obama, said the nation is dangerously close to default. "I think the notion that somehow this is going to be easily solved this week is completely false," Plouffe said on This Week.
Plouffe put the odds of a deal by Thursday at "no better than 50/50. And so I think the country needs to prepare that this could go on for a while."
However, Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said a compromise was possible.
Collins, whose proposal to end the standoff was rejected Saturday by Reid, said on CNN that talks continue between Republican and Democrats.
"We're continuing to talk," Collins said. "And I'm still hopeful that at least we sparked a dialogue that did not exist before we put out a plan."
Klobuchar, also appearing on CNN, said the Collins' plan has jump-started negotiations.
"I see this as a positive framework going forward," Klobuchar said. "And we need that right now."
Collins' plan would extend the debt ceiling to January and reopen the government through March, as well as delay an unpopular tax on medical devices under the Affordable Care Act.
Coming somewhere in between the dire and dream of a deal was Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. Appearing on CBS' Face the Nation, McCain said he was encouraged that negotiations continued, but he warned Democrats, who he suggested hold the upper hand, not to "humiliate" Republicans.
"We should be sitting down," McCain said. "And the president should be engaged. And the Democrats, they better understand something. What goes around comes around. And if they try to humiliate Republicans, things change in American politics. And I know what it's like to be in the majority and in the minority. And it won't be forgotten. Now's the time to be magnanimous and sit down and get this thing done."