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Dems call the shots in debt ceiling standoff

Hopes for a debt ceiling deal have been reignited now that negotiations have shifted to Senate leaders.
/ Source: MSNBC TV

Hopes for a debt ceiling deal have been reignited now that negotiations have shifted to Senate leaders.

Buoyed by polling that shows GOP support plummeting, Senate Democrats are now calling the shots in the showdown over the debt ceiling.

With only four days until the U.S. hits its debt limit, Democrats have rejected Republican efforts to lock in government spending at sequester levels for another six months, in hopes of reaching a better deal.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-IL, expressed optimism about reaching a more satisfactory compromise before time runs out. “I believe we can do it,”  he said on Sunday’s Meet the Press. ”I hope sensible people prevail.”

Senate Democrats dismissed a proposal from Maine Republican Susan Collins Saturday afternoon that they said kept spending levels far too low.

Collins’ proposal would have raised the debt ceiling until January 2014 and would have funded the government at sequester levels for six months.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he appreciated Collins’ efforts to find a consensus, but said the proposal was dead in the water at this time. “The plan that I’ve seen in writing is not going to go any place at this stage,”  he said.

On Sunday, Sen. Rob Portman, R-OH, voiced tentative confidence about ongoing negotiations, saying he believed there would be a ‘relatively short-term solution’ within a few days.

But he emphasized that the GOP wants to keep sequester-level funding in place, which Democrats have so far rejected.

“What I understand from last night’s discussion is that Democrats are now saying they want to bust those caps,” he said.

On Fox News Sunday, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee had a much less optimistic outlook than Portman because of the spending cap discussion. He said, “I think things are not moving now. The last 24 hours have not been good.”

Sen.  Rand Paul, R-KY, said on State of the Union that now that the sequester is “the law of the land,” any funding measures that lifted it would be “a huge mistake.” However, Paul also acknowledged that breaching the debt ceiling is “not a good idea.”

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham on Sunday sounded a skeptical note on any budget deal originating in Senate, where he said Democrats have repeatedly “moved the goalposts.”

“I’m not going to vote for any plan that I don’t think can get a majority of Republicans in the House,” said Graham on ABC’s This Week. “It’s better [for a deal] to start in the House.”

The South Carolina lawmaker added that he believed expectations to delay or defund Obamacare were “unrealistic,” and that allowing the shutdown to continue would ruin the institution of Congress.

“We’re in a political free fall as Republicans, but Democrats are not far behind,” said Graham. “After listening to all of us talk now, I probably understand why 60% of Americans want to vote all incumbents out.”

Additional reporting by MSNBC’s Emma Margolin