U.S. lawmakers are meeting Monday, despite it being a federal holiday, as they work to resolve a two-pronged fiscal fight regarding the partially closed government and a looming deadline for making sure the nation can pay its debts.
Portions of the government have been closed for two weeks and will remain that way until Congress and the president can agree on a new budget measure. That impasse has merged with Thursday's pending expiration of the country's debt ceiling, which would leave the United States unable to borrow money to pay its creditors.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Sunday after "productive" talks with Republican leader Mitch McConnell that he is "optimistic" about the prospects for resolving both issues.
Democrats want to raise the debt ceiling higher, prolonging the amount of time before it needs to be negotiated again. They are also seeking a short-term spending bill that would allow the government to reopen while leaving in place until next month sharp budget cuts that went into effect this year.
However, Republicans want a smaller hike in the debt ceiling along with more spending cuts.
International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde told NBC-TV's Meet the Press Sunday that failing to increase the debt ceiling would mean "massive disruption the world over" and could increase the risk of another global recession.
"You have to honor your signature, you have to give certainty to the rest of the world and you have to make sure that your own economy is consolidating that welcome economy that we have seen in the last few days, because it impacts the entire economy," said Lagarde.
Senator Reid said last week the shutdown is causing pain and suffering across the country. President Barack Obama and Democrats are demanding Congress pass a "clean spending bill" before negotiating on other issues, such as spending cuts and his health care program. Many Republicans want negotiations before voting on a budget.
Lawmakers rarely meet on the federal holiday known as Columbus Day, which marks the anniversary of the arrival of explorer Christopher Columbus to the Americas. In the past 20 years, both the House and Senate have only been in session on that date once, in 1998, while the Senate met one other time in 2004.
Columbus Day became a U.S. holiday in 1971. It is generally observed by banks, state government offices, the Postal Service and federal agencies. The bond markets are closed for the holiday, but many businesses and stock exchanges remain open.
Columbus, an Italian explorer sailing under the Spanish flag, led four expeditions to the New World, but never accomplished his original goal -- to find a western ocean route to Asia. Instead, Columbus ushered in a new era in world history by opening up the Americas to exploration.
(c) 2012 Federal Information & News Dispatch, Inc.
Original headline: US Lawmakers Hold Rare Session Amid Govt. Shutdown, Looming Debt Deadline
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