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Some Senate Republicans Open to Clean Debt-Ceiling Plan

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, said "we've got a situation where you have a calendar running, you have people who are frustrated and upset, and so let's figure it out." Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Oct. 8 (Bloomberg) -- Seven Senate Republicans said they are holding open the possibility of backing Democrats’ plan for a debt-ceiling increase without conditions, raising the prospect for sending a measure to the House before the deadline.

Democrats, who control 54 seats in the 100-member chamber, would need the support of at least six Republicans to pass a one-year increase in the nation’s $16.7 trillion debt ceiling that they plan to introduce today. They are planning a test vote before the end of this week.

Some Senate Republicans, including Susan Collins of Maine, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, didn’t rule out backing the Democrats’ plan. They said they must first see details, which would raise the debt limit before U.S. borrowing authority lapses Oct. 17.

“We’ve got a situation where you have a calendar running, you have people who are frustrated and upset, and so let’s figure it out,” Murkowski said in an interview at the Capitol yesterday. “We shouldn’t be dismissing anything.”

That’s in contrast to House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, who has said any plan to lift the debt limit must be paired with cuts and other ways to curb U.S. spending.

One Republican senator -- Illinois’s Mark Kirk -- said he would support a so-called “clean” debt ceiling.

Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain, both of Arizona, left the door open to supporting Democrats’ plan.

Measure’s ‘Structure’

“It depends on the structure of it,” Flake said.

McCain said in an interview today that he wanted there to be negotiations on a debt-ceiling increase, after saying yesterday that his support for Democrats’ plan would depend on “what the dynamics are.”

“If there’s real reason to sit down and negotiate this out, then I’ll vote for anything,” he said today.

With nine days to go before borrowing authority lapses, Democrats and Republicans are locked in a partisan standoff that has brought a government shutdown into its second week. President Barack Obama and Senate Democratic leaders have said they won’t negotiate on a debt-ceiling increase.

If the Democratic plan were to pass the Senate with bipartisan support, that would further pressure Boehner to pass a debt-ceiling bill in the House and avoid default.

Six Votes

That has put the spotlight on Senate Republicans, who could be crucial to a breakthrough in the stalemate, particularly if the necessary half dozen or more would be willing to join with Democrats to advance the measure.

“I will be listening today, and then I will decide what to do,” Alexander said.

Republican Bob Corker of Tennessee said he wants to see changes in Medicare and Social Security as part of a deal to raise the debt ceiling.

“These reforms need to be a part of what we do here,” he said.

Other Republicans, including Rob Portman of Ohio and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire said they were inclined to push for a broader deficit-reduction agreement.

“What I’m focused on is working with Republicans and Democrats alike to come up with a way to deal with the underlying problem of overspending,” Portman said in an interview.

Ayotte’s Concerns

Ayotte said she had “not seen any proposals yet” so she couldn’t comment specifically, though added that “when we deal with the debt limit we should be dealing with the underlying fiscal problems facing our nation.”

New Jersey Republican Jeff Chiesa and Georgia Republican Johnny Isakson declined to comment on “hypotheticals.”

New York Senator Charles Schumer, the chamber’s third-ranking Democrat, said today in an interview that Democrats would soon start trying to court Republican votes.

“We’re going to introduce it today, and we’re going to start talking to them,” said Schumer, who predicted that most, if not all, Democrats would support an increase in the debt cap without conditions.

Every Democratic defector would require securing additional Republican votes.

West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin told reporters today that he may not support the Democrats’ plan, while North Dakota Democrat Heidi Heitkamp has repeatedly refused to comment.

“I haven’t said I would support or be in favor or opposed to anything until I see what they put on the table,” Manchin told reporters today. “But I am looking for a bigger deal. I am not looking for kicking the can down the road.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Kathleen Hunter in Washington at khunter9@bloomberg.net; Chris Strohm in Washington at cstrohm1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jodi Schneider at jschneider50@bloomberg.net

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