Talks on ending the government shutdown and preventing default have once again deadlocked, but this time it is Democrats who are demanding changes to current law as a condition for ending the impasse.

With the two sides now negotiating to extend government funding until at least January 31, Democrats are now insisting on spending increases — they want to end most of the cuts put in place as part of the so-called sequester. Democrats are still willing to accept a short-term deal to reopen the government at sequester spending levels (the Senate, of course, passed a 6-week extension on those terms), but now that talks are centered on funding the government into 2014, they are insisting on undoing some of sequester cuts. To Republicans, this is a non-starter, unless the sequester spending cuts are replaced with cuts to entitlement programs — and that is a non-starter for Democrats…

Meanwhile, Republicans in the House are watching all of this warily. Speaker of the House John Boehner’s last offer, of a six-week extension of government funding and borrowing authority in exchange for budget talks, was rejected by the White House on Friday. Anything the Senate ultimately passes, will likely be opposed by the majority of House Republicans. Boehner would need to make an 11th hour decision on whether to bring a Senate bill opposed by his members up for a vote or to attempt to change it once again.

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Sen. John McCain said Sunday that he’s disappointed the White House hasn’t played a larger role in negotiating an end to the government shutdown.

“I hope the president will become engaged. Maybe we need to get Joe Biden out of the witness protection program,” the Arizona Republican quipped on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” noting the vice president’s absence during shutdown talks. For instance, Biden’s schedule notes he’s at Camp David this weekend…

The major sticking point in negotiations is sequestration, McCain said. “I’m very worried about the devastation to our military and defense,” he said, but added that the country has to rein in spending.

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“I have bent over backwards to try to listen and accommodate and modify my plan,” Collins said. “I tried to explain to [Democrats] some of the different realities that I’m dealing with in my caucus as well. It’s a delicate balance to keep enough Republicans on board as well as attract Democratic support.”

The frustration clearly boiled over on the Senate floor on the 12th day of the shutdown as Collins and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) engaged in a heated back-and-forth over the Democratic leaders’ rejection of Collins’ plan, according to several sources who witnessed the exchange.

Murray, the No. 4 in Senate leadership, pointedly told Collins that it was unacceptable to lock in cuts at the sequestration spending levels. Collins scoffed at the Democratic position, arguing she had worked to find a solution that both sides could accept…

“I’m not a supporter of the Collins plan at this time because it brings in sequester,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said. “To the best of my knowledge, leadership of neither party supports it.”

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The rejection of this latest GOP offer, authored by Senator Susan Collins, has made Senate Republicans angry, and many of them are complaining today that Democrats are “moving the goal posts” by trying to tinker with sequestration cuts. “It’s caused the whole process to nearly collapse,” says a Senate Republican. “We can’t move on those levels and anything that touches those levels won’t pass the House.” A House GOP leadership staffer, via e-mail, agrees:

1) At the very last minute, Sen. Harry Reid moved the goal-posts by insisting we violate the spending levels set by the Budget Control Act – a law he voted for and helped write.
2) He has led the White House into a box canyon with our economy on the line, since time is running short for any measure to start in the Senate before the debt limit deadline.

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House Republicans are no longer a part of negotiations to end the standoff in Washington, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin said Sunday.

“We’ve reached the point where House Republicans and their leadership have stepped to the sidelines,” the Illinois Democrat said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” knocking the House GOP for what he characterized as shifting demands. “They’re not part of this,” he said.

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Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said Sunday that no Senate Republicans would vote to advance a government spending/debt-limit increase bill that replaces the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration, which Senate Democrats are reportedly considering…

Graham suggested that such a deal would damage House Speaker John Boehner’s position by putting pressure on him to pass a bill with significant Democratic votes.

“Here’s what I’m worried about a deal coming out of the Senate, that a majority of Republicans can’t vote for in the House, that really does compromise Speaker Boehner’s leadership,” Graham said. “And after all this mess is over, do we really want to compromise John Boehner as leader of the House? I don’t think so.”

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With concerns growing that global financial markets could be thrown into turmoil if Congress does not agree to raise the debt ceiling, Republicans said they did not know whether Mr. Boehner would have enough support from the most conservative members in his conference to put a Senate plan up for a vote — if the leaders reach a deal…

Many Republicans said that however frustrated they were that the White House would not negotiate with them, they were just as dismayed with House colleagues who would not back down from their demands that any deal include provisions to chip away at the health care law.

“The problem here is that we don’t have a functioning majority,” said Representative Devin Nunes, Republican of California. “After three weeks of this, they’re still not figuring it out. I don’t know what it takes.”

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In a Saturday night statement, Sen. Ted Cruz once again called on the House GOP to stand against Obamacare despite the government shutdown and looming default, contending they can still “win this debate.”

“House Republicans have heroically led this fight, and they should stand firm. Patience and courage and persistence is required, and will not come from the permanent beltway class,” the Texas Republican said. “So-called grand bargains historically have been neither grand nor a bargain — typically resulting in more debt, more spending, and more government.”…

“The American people expect their government to function — and we can ensure that right now. We can fund our essential priorities and commit to paying our debt first, even while opposing Obamacare,” Cruz said. “The people want jobs and strong economic growth back, and Obamacare is a major impediment to both. As long as we keep listening to the people and fighting for jobs and prosperity, Republicans will win this debate.”

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The Tennessee Republican dinged his own party for what he characterized as an “overreach” in trying to defund Obamacare as part of any deal to fund the government, saying that was “not something that was achievable.”

But he said Democrats were now overreaching by seeking an agreement to increase government spending above the levels mandated under sequestration.

“What we need to do is get this back to the middle of the road, act like adults,” Corker said. “Nothing is going to happen, I don’t think, if it’s about breaking those spending caps.”

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Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Sunday that he is not willing to support any deal to raise the federal debt ceiling that includes increases in government spending that rise above the levels that have been in place since the implementation of the sequester budget cuts…

Paul, who is considered a likely 2016 presidential candidate, said during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” that was where he was drawing the line in the sand.

“Compromise is in the eye of the beholder,” Paul said. “I’m willing to compromise. We’ve offered 13 compromises [and] the Senate has rejected each and every one. The one thing I cannot accept is the Democrats wanting to exceed the sequester caps. It’s funny, they’re all about Obamacare is the law of the land, well so is the sequester. If we exceed that, it’s a real step in the wrong direction.”

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Via NRO.