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Now, Congress down to its last strike to avoid debt-ceiling default

By rejecting the bill passed by the House Friday, the Senate essentially now has one last shot to get a debt ceiling increase through Congress before the Aug. 2 deadline.

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Behind the political theater on the floor, negotiations have been ongoing for weeks both within the Senate and between the Senate and House leaders over how to resolve this crisis.

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Senator Reid and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky, while not close friends, have developed a strong, working relationship. Unusually, they have a “nonaggression pact,” which means that neither one will campaign against the other. They speak several times a day and recently collaborated over how to improve a “last choice” proposal by Senator McConnell that would give the president a fast-track option to raise the debt limit with the support of only 34 senators.

“They’re not best friends, but they’re two old bulls who kind of see the world in the same way,” says Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.

The challenge in resolving the debt crisis will be to find a way to strike a bipartisan deal capable of passing the Senate that will not alienate Republicans needed to pass the measure in the House. “Something bipartisan in the Senate is a positive virtue, while in the House it’s a disqualifying problem,” he adds.

Indeed, in a surprise move, House Republicans could bring up a version of the Reid proposal for a vote on Saturday, well before the Senate takes it up on Sunday. Some House Republicans want to send a message to the Senate that the plan is unacceptable to them.

Yet House Democrats say it’s essential that the Senate send back a bill that does not require a second vote on raising the debt limit – one of the elements of Boehner's plan. “If they want 218 votes, they’re going to have to come to us,” says Rep. Jim McDermott (D) of Washington.”

“We’re in for a very difficult Monday night,” says Rep. Rob Andrews (D) of New Jersey, referring to when many lawmakers expect to take final votes on the Senate deal.

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