Congress: Not encouraging

National Review’s Jonathan Strong and Robert Costa: “House Republican leaders met today at the Capitol, but they made little progress toward solving the fiscal crisis, or calming the GOP’s growing tensions. They remain undecided on the contours of a potential deal, and on how to sell one, especially to the conference’s bloc of skeptical conservatives. ‘It’s the House of indecision,’ says a weary Republican aide familiar with the talks. ‘We don’t have the votes for a big deal, small deal, or short-term deal.’”

And this… “Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn told reporters Monday that it would be ‘premature’ to move on a standalone guarantee of back pay for federal workers without addressing other elements of the government shutdown,” Roll Call reports, adding, “Cornyn indicated that Republicans should be allowed to offer amendments to the measure regarding retroactive pay for furloughed federal employees, which the House passed Saturday, 407-0, as part of the larger strategy. Such a move could give GOP senators a chance to try to force votes on expanding the scope of the measure.”

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine was non-too-pleased with Cornyn’s approach: “I think that’s unfortunate. I think it would be very reassuring to constituents across the country who are out of work through no fault of their own if they at least knew that they were going to receive retroactive pay, since what this represents is not a failure on their part, but a failure on the part of Congress and the White House.”

AP: “Democrats controlling the Senate are planning to try to pass a stand-alone measure to increase the government's borrowing cap, challenging Republicans to a filibuster showdown that could unnerve financial markets as the deadline to a first-ever default on U.S. obligations draws closer. A spokesman said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could unveil the measure as early as Tuesday, setting the table for a test vote later in the week. The measure is expected to provide enough borrowing room to last beyond next year's election, which means it likely will permit $1 trillion or more in new borrowing above the current $16.7 trillion debt ceiling that the administration says will be hit on Oct. 17.”

Harry Reid’s hard line… National Journal: “The deadline to keep open the federal government was only two weeks away, when the White House quietly floated plans for a summit between President Obama and the four congressional leaders. The idea was to show Obama, his sleeves rolled up, engaged as Congress lurched toward a shutdown. But when top administration officials reached out to Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office had a message for them: Don't do it. Reid's team argued such a meeting would suggest the Democrats were willing to negotiate when they weren't. The White House listened. The summit was nixed. And no serious talks have occurred since.”

Maybe this is why… Alex Seitz-Wald points out 19 times that Senate Democrats called for unanimous consent to go to conference only to be blocked by Republicans – from Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, and Pat Toomey to Mike Lee, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio.

Not living in reality… “Republican lawmakers are voicing increasing skepticism about dire warnings that failing to raise the debt ceiling would result in catastrophic default,” USA Today writes.

Democrats are starting to get nervous that the president will back away from the hard-line stance on the debt ceiling. “Just as top Senate Democrats began to lay the groundwork to raise the U.S. government’s borrowing limit through 2014, senior White House officials refused to rule out a short-term increase,” Politico writes. “The divergent messages caused major heartburn for top Senate Democrats and gave Republicans fresh hope that they could defeat a yearlong debt ceiling hike and win concessions from President Barack Obama in this fall’s fiscal battles. By late Monday afternoon, nervous Senate Democrats had reached out to the White House to ensure they were on the same page — and the concerns on Capitol Hill seemed to be alleviated after senior administration officials downplayed the idea of a short-term increase.”

Mark Sanford is facing the heat in his district for supporting the shutdown. He’s in a district with a lot of federal workers and contractors, and he was bombarded with questions about it at a town hall yesterday. “Some 180 residents packed one of the meetings Saturday at North Charleston City Hall,” Politico writes. “The former governor, who won a special election in May to represent the Charleston-area seat he held for six years in the ’90s, was bombarded by questions about furloughs and base closures. Most of the roughly 20 people who spoke demanded to know why the government isn’t running.”

Said one man: “I wanted you to see my face and hear my voice, and to know that I’m one of the guys who’s going to be affected by this,” said one federal contractor who told Sanford he’d be furloughed next week. “I like you, I voted for you. You’re a fiscal hawk, I respect that. But I want you to support the continuing resolution to get the government running. You’re impacting me and my personal life, our community and everyone else. And when I say ‘you,’ I mean Congress.”

USA Today: “Chaplain asks God to forgive Senate's politics.”