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US Senate Postpones Test Vote on Debt Ceiling

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 29, 2011

Senate majority says negotiations with the White House are ongoing

Drama and uncertainty over raising the U.S. borrowing limit are continuing to play out on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Democratic Senate Majority leader Harry Reid has postponed a test vote on his plan to cut government spending and raise the debt ceiling until Sunday afternoon. Reid said negotiations to reach a deal on raising the debt ceiling are going on behind closed doors between the White House and congressional leaders.

In another day of unexpected twists and turns in the high-stakes political battle over raising the U.S. debt limit, Reid came to the floor late Saturday, saying he was postponing a vote planned for the middle of the night.

Reid said, "I have spoken to the White House quite a few times this evening. They have asked me to give everyone as much time as possible to reach an agreement, if one can be reached. For that reason we will hold over the vote until tomorrow at noon."

Reid appeared more optimistic than he had been earlier in the day, saying talks between congressional leaders and the White House to reach an elusive compromise to avert default are still ongoing. He restated, however, that Democrats are insisting that a measure to raise the debt ceiling not be a short-term fix, saying Democrats do not want to put the country through another debt crisis in just a few months time.

Earlier, Republican Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell indicated that the lines of communication between Republican congressional leaders and the White House had re-opened again after several days dominated by political wrangling in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to pass a bill the White House and Senate Democrats reject. At a news conference with Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner, McConnell sounded hopeful.

He said, “Now in the category of getting serious, I have spoken both to the president and the vice president within the last hour. We are now fully engaged, the Speaker and I, with the one person in America out of 307 million people [the president] who can sign a bill into law. I am confident and optimistic that we are going to get an agreement in the very near future, and resolve this crisis in the best interest of the American people.”

President Obama and congressional leaders have until Tuesday to raise the country's $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, or risk triggering the first debt default in U.S. history. The president has been in negotiations and talks for weeks with congressional leaders on finding a plan all parties could agree on, but those talks broke down more than a week ago over disagreements between the president and House Republicans.

Earlier Saturday, the Republican-led House of Representatives easily defeated a debt plan produced by Reid, just as the Senate Friday night rejected a plan put forth by Boehner and narrowly approved by the House. The Reid plan has not even been voted on in the Senate yet, but the House wanted to prove a point that it could not pass there.

Reid’s plan, supported by the White House, would cut government spending by $2.5 trillion and raise the legal limit on borrowing enough to fund the government through the end of 2012. The House plan would require another vote on the debt ceiling in a few months time.

With time running out for Congress to still be able to get a compromise bill passed through both chambers before the August 2nd deadline, analysts said the fact that negotiations have resumed is at least a glimmer of progress.