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In Congress, hope springs

After a contentious Saturday, there appeared to be glimmers of hope that Congress could come up with a compromise to raise the debt limit by Tuesday.

A vote originally scheduled for 1:00 am ET this morning was delayed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) half a day to 1:00 pm ET today to buy time for both sides to hammer out a deal. Though the key procedural vote to overcome a filibuster is scheduled, as NBC's Chuck Todd points out, if a deal is struck that vote would not likely take place until later.

The Man to Watch: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). He says he’s “fully engaged” in talks with the White House, reportedly speaking with Vice President Biden yesterday four times. (They were the duo that was able to negotiate this past winter’s tax deal.)

The total amount both sides are looking at is in the range of $2.4 trillion to $2.6 trillion – in two steps: (1) About $1 trillion debt-ceiling increase now with offsetting cuts. That’s about the amount that both sides said about a month and a half ago that they’d agreed to already. That would last about six or seven months; and (2) A newly established committee would have to find another $1.4 trillion to 1.6 trillion in cuts before that debt limit would have to be increased again by about the end of the year or early next year. That would last through the 2012 election.

But the second part is a big sticking point. If the committee can’t find the cuts, then one agreement being talked about is triggering automatic spending cuts across the board, including what some believe amounts to cuts in Social Security. (Essentially, the proposal would cut $100 billion over 10 years by adjusting “cost of living” with a different measure of inflation than is currently used.)

The president wants a “trigger” so there is stability for the economy and markets in six months. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has said he doesn’t want to give the president carte blanche authority to raise the debt ceiling.

But where the automatic cuts will be implemented is being negotiated. The White House and Democrats want the potential pain to be spread around. And since no one is talking about “revenues” anymore – or raising taxes/cutting deductions for the rich – that could mean deep Defense cuts would be on the table.

Another sticking point is that Republicans say even though the Congressional Budget Office said Reid’s plan cuts about $2.2 trillion, they say assuming war-spending reductions should not be included. They call it a “gimmick” and not “real” cuts.

Another complicating factor for Reid, as he tries to shepherd a bill today that can get the 60 votes necessary to overcome a Republican filibuster, 43 of 47 Republicans sent a letter to Reid yesterday, saying they wouldn’t support his proposal.

At the end of the day, what gets out of the Senate could look more like Boehner’s original proposal – without the balanced-budget amendment -- than Reid’s.

The timeline:
Noon: Senate convenes

1:00 pm ET: Cloture vote – would need 60 votes to overcome a potential GOP filibuster. (But this vote is likely not to happen if there's a deal, because they would be voting on Reid's proposal. That's not what the ultimate deal will be.)

Then, it moves to a full vote.

Monday/Tuesday: Then, it’s up to Boehner when or how to bring it up in the House. The House shot down Reid’s proposal yesterday in a symbolic vote largely along party lines, but with a dozen Democrats voting with Republicans.

It could get a House vote Monday or Tuesday, if it passes the Senate today. And Obama could sign any time after that.