“Tell your henchman to stop saying nice things about me,” McConnell, the Senate minority leader, told Reid earlier this week, according to people familiar with the conversation. “It hurts me.” Even as he’s sought to project immovable unity with House Speaker John Boehner, the prospects for an eleventh-hour deal rest largely on McConnell’s shoulders. For weeks, he’s kept an open line of communication with Vice President Joe Biden, with whom he struck a deal with in December to extend Bush-era tax cuts, and he heard from President Barack Obama on Saturday, too. In the meantime, he’s been trying to keep anxious Republican senators at bay. – Mitch McConnell’s moment: Debt ceiling deal maker or deal breaker?

All eyes are on Sen. Mitch McConnell, since he “conceded” the point that no deal can happen without Pres. Obama, who is now fully engaged in the final stage. McConnell is also Speaker Boehner’s lifeline, with the letter signed by 43 Republican senators saying Reid’s bill is dead quid pro quo for Reid’s letter on the Boehner bill.

The details of what’s going on between McConnell and Boehner are being kept among a select few. Let’s face it though, McConnell cannot be trusted by Democrats or the White House, a point that is close to irrelevant at this late moment, which is exactly why McConnell waited so long to get involved. He wants to force Pres. Obama into a situation where he feels he has no choice but to make deals no Democrat should make.

So, McConnell and Biden are talking, while anyone watching this spectacle can see Reid and McConnell are not.

Sen. Mitch McConnell’s original plan is now part of the Reid bill, with the triggers at issue on how to force a second round of budget cuts if the bicameral congressional committee being concocted to work on the austerity plan can’t come to an agreement. As Politico and other outlets are reporting, many Democrats believe McConnell is pushing for the second round as a set up for the inevitable and planned breakdown of any committee, so he can get more cuts upon failure. Republicans also want to make Social Security part of their triggers, which went over with a thud, with Chuck Todd reporting there are other triggers beyond entitlements.

Democrats want the trigger to include tax increases, but that’s a line House Republicans won’t cross, so it all depends on finding moderate Republic—, yeah right. Only four senators refused to sign McConnell’s letter stating Republicans intend to vote down Reid’s bill, a vote which was scheduled for 1:00 a.m. Sunday, but that was moved because Sen. Reid was told the White House talks are progressing.

God only knows what that means.

The target is $1.6 – $1.8 million in cuts before year’s end.

[…] The Democrats bigger worry is Boehner, who shows signs of simply running-out-the-clock, playing hard-to-get with Obama and hoping the White House will give into his demands. The speaker and McConnell are in regular contact, but having pushed the fight this far, the GOP has reason to fear it will lose support from its traditional business allies if there isn’t more progress before markets open Monday, one day before the threat of default. – GOP leaders ‘fully engaged’ with W.H., but Dems skeptical on debt deal

No doubt you’re sick to death of reading this from me, but the 14th Amendment remains a shot for Pres. Obama, regardless of the legal imbroglio that would follow. Because what people keep forgetting in all their prognostications is that Pres. Obama simply cannot allow the U.S. to default. One can only guess the fight that would ensue over which House Republican would serve up impeachment if it happened.

With the tension building and the last moment approaching, as McConnell bet on all along, which is why he offered up his devious plan in the first place, the bigger worry for Democrats is that Pres. Obama will offer any number of compromises to stave off a dismal Monday on Wall Street.

So, the question is how much further to the right will the McConnell-Boehner-Reid bill have to go before the White House cries “uncle”? …and will House Democrats balk for the first time and channel their own inner Tea Party rage if what comes back to the House is political poison on entitlements?

The painful negotiations to resolve the crisis have caught the attention of troops in Afghanistan, where Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was quizzed repeatedly on Saturday by soldiers and Marines worried about their paychecks. In Kandahar and Helmand Provinces, Admiral Mullen said it remained uncertain where money would be found if the government defaulted. Regardless of budget talks in Washington, the mission for American troops in Afghanistan would not halt, he said. – New York Times