A Guide to the Power Pairings at Center of Shutdown, Debt-Limit Crisis

PHOTO: Sens. Susan Collins and Joe Manchin
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PHOTO: Sens. Susan Collins and Joe Manchin

Sen. Susan Collins-Sen. Joe Manchin

Two moderate senators, two different political parties. There's a compromiser in every conflict, and this time around Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., are the moderate senators willing to stick their necks out by proposing a "bipartisan" compromise that could get everyone out of this mess in Washington. Theirs is a relationship marked by reasonable-ness, or so they hope. As harbingers of the political "center" for both of their political parties, if their bid for compromise fails, it could spell real trouble. It's too early to tell, but so far just the fact that negotiations convened by this pair have produced talks between the two parties is an improvement on the no-talks, no-compromise stalemate that had characterized most of this episode thus far. The Collins-Manchin group of 12 senators hasn't reached an agreement, but they are still talking, and that's a good thing.

PHOTO: Kentucky Sens. Mitch McConnell, left, and Rand Paul speak with reporters
Timothy D. Easley/AP Photo
PHOTO: Kentucky Sens. Mitch McConnell, left, and Rand Paul speak with reporters

Sen. Rand Paul-Sen. Mitch McConnell

This duo from Kentucky were caught on an open mic discussing their strategy for talking in the media about the government shutdown earlier this month. "I think if we keep saying, 'We wanted to defund it. We fought for that and that we're willing to compromise on this' ... I know we don't want to be here, but we're going to win this, I think," Sen. Rand Paul told the senior senator from Kentucky and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on the recording. Yes, it's a little strange that a first-term senator would be counseling his more senior colleague on how to win the messaging war about the government shutdown.

But consider this: McConnell is engaged in one of the most difficult political fights for re-election of his career as he tries to fend off a more conservative tea party challenger. He needs all the help he can get from one of the tea party's favorite senators. Paul and McConnell have forged an alliance publicly despite McConnell's being one of the least favorite lawmakers among the party's ardent conservative base. McConnell will need to rely on Paul's advice to determine just how far he can go to compromise and where he might need to stand his ground.

PHOTO: Senate majority leader Harry Reid and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo
PHOTO: Senate majority leader Harry Reid and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell

Sen. Harry Reid-Sen. Mitch McConnell

The Senate is supposed to be the "world's greatest deliberative body," but Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell sometimes argue on the Senate floor like feuding siblings. Neither man is in the mood for compromise for obvious reasons: Reid believes he has the upper hand, and McConnell is not eager to cave into Democratic demands while he's in the middle of fending off a more conservative re-election challenger.

Until recently, there was no evidence that the Senate majority leader and Senate minority leader were even talking about a way to get the country out of a government shutdown and away from the possibility of default. So when McConnell and Reid appeared to take the reins of negotiations between Democrats and Republicans Saturday, it was a rare moment. In the past, McConnell has relied on his relatively cordial relationship with longtime senator and now Vice President Joe Biden to strike big deals with the White House. But with Biden now out of the picture, this marks the ultimate test of whether these two men can put the bickering aside and come to an agreement.

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