The Senate failed to take its first new step Saturday to stave off a fiscal disaster: voting to begin work on a bill to raise the nation's debt limit.
Lawmakers voted 53-47 on the bill, falling short of the 60 votes needed to invoke "cloture" and proceed. The bill would lift the nation's borrowing cap through December 2014. A one-year hike of the debt ceiling is unpopular with congressional Republicans, but Senate Democrats hope to increase the pressure on the GOP as the Oct. 17 deadline looms to avoid default.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) warned shortly before the vote that if Congress fails to act before the deadline -- when the Treasury secretary warned the United States could run short of cash on hand to pay all its bills -- the nation could suffer an economic calamity.
"It's really too hard to comprehend that four days from today, unless and until a few extremist Republicans -- we hope it's a few -- too radical to compromise, could force a default on the nation's obligations," Reid said on the Senate floor.
"I believe… that Monday is a legal holiday," Reid added. "I believe markets will be closed. That's good because what I see staring us in the face is not a pleasant picture."
He added that a market collapse because of the Congress' battle over the debt limit and funding the government wouldn't hurt just financiers, but would have powerful ripple effects, harming all of society, destroying people's life savings and costing millions of jobs.
Noting that talks between the White House and House of Representatives appear stalled, he said it is time for the Senate to lead the way.
"I was happy to see the Republicans engaged in talks with the president, the House Republicans," Reid said. "That's over with. It's done. They're not talking anymore. We learned that this morning. I say to my friends on the Republican side of this Senate, time is running out."
The Senate immediately recessed so both sides could meet for a strategy session.
A plan by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) to resolve the impasse failed to get the support of Democratic leaders. Collins was working with a bipartisan group of nine other senators, hoping to deal with the debt limit through January and get the government funded until March.
A Democratic leadership aide, when asked to explain why they rejected the Collins' proposal, told The Huffington Post that "opening the government and doing a debt limit shouldn’t be concessions." More specifically, the aide added, leadership wanted "a longer debt limit and better CR."
On Saturday morning, a new set of talks began. They involved Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ken.), and Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). These new talks appear, at the moment, to be the last viable POST