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WASHINGTON -- As congressional leaders exchanged more harsh words Saturday over raising the debt ceiling, Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware made phone calls to colleagues from across the nation to try to motivate a bipartisan meeting and possible solution.

Riding in the back seat of Sen. Chris Coons' SUV after visiting the state fair, Carper called about 20 Republican and Democratic senators. He already had written a letter to Senate leaders with more than 20 signatures, but was trying for more.

In a closed-door meeting, "Sometimes people are just more likely to be open and be honest with each other ... instead of posturing for the cameras," he said.

It may appear doubtful lawmakers will reach a compromise on the debt ceiling by Tuesday's deadline to raise the country's borrowing limit.

But Delaware's Democratic senators say lawmakers are still engaged in encouraging private conversations -- at least in the Senate.

"Publicly, on the floor, there appears to be a fair amount of vitriol," Carper said. "Privately, there's none of that. "

As of Saturday night, the Senate still planned to hold a key test vote at 1 p.m. Sunday on a measure by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada that would cut about $2.2 trillion in spending over 10 years and increase borrowing authority by a large enough amount to last beyond the 2012 election.

Republicans all said they would oppose the bill.

The House pre-emptively voted down Reid's plan Saturday as House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio continued to press for his plan to raise the debt ceiling by $2.5 trillion in two steps. The first increase would expire early next year. The second would be contingent on Congress sending a balanced budget amendment to the states for ratification.

The House passed the plan Friday, but the Senate quickly tabled it.

As Coons sees it, there's not that many things left to work through.

"The question is, 'How big will the deal be, who's on the committee and what's the enforcement mechanism if the committee fails to recommend action or legislation?' " he said.

Rep. John Carney, D-Del., left the Capitol Saturday "frustrated" that lawmakers are wasting time voting on measures that have no chance to win final approval. Like Carper, he thinks the time Republicans have spent making floor speeches could be better used in negotiations.

Republicans adamantly oppose any tax increases, but members of Delaware's delegation support President Barack Obama's call for a "balanced approach" that would combine spending cuts with new tax revenue.

They back plans offered by a presidential deficit-reduction commission and by a group of three Democratic and three Republican senators -- the Gang of Six -- that would combine cuts and new tax revenue to produce savings of roughly $4 trillion over 10 years. And they want a deficit-reduction package paired with legislation raising the borrowing limit.

At the Delaware State Fair Saturday, Coons and Carper got an earful from constituents.

"Why can't you work out a responsible compromise?" Coons said people asked him.

Carper said people expressed fears they might not continue getting Social Security checks. Some said they were praying for him and wished him luck.

The ride back to Washington allowed time for the senators to exchange ideas and discuss which colleagues they would lobby.

They see potential in the bipartisan deficit reduction committee proposed in both competing debt-reduction plans. Coons suggested its members should be chosen by leaders of the opposing party, rather than leaders picking their favorite soldiers.

"That is the kind of detailed discussion that dozens of senators are having right now," he said.

Coons believes a deal will not only require active engagement from the White House and congressional leaders, but will require individual senators to capitalize on the good will they've built with one another.

Full story: http://www.delawareonline.com/article/20110731/NEWS02/107310361