Washington (CNN) - With competing Republican and Democratic legislation to lift the debt ceiling bogged down in each chamber, key lawmakers say it is more and more likely it will be up to House and Senate leaders from each party to cut a late deal to stave off default before the August 2 deadline.
"There's going to have to be a compromise," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, who said the top five bipartisan congressional leaders will need to get in a room together and find agreement. "That's the end of the game; you can't have four of the five," Schumer said, referring to the top two party leaders in each chamber and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
Much of the burden will fall on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, the two partisan but deal-making party leaders in the Senate who have repeatedly promised to prevent a default.
Aides say the two men talk daily but those discussions are not currently at the level of serious negotiations about exactly how to fix the two bills before them. Those talks are likely to heat up after it's known if the Republican bill can clear the House. A vote is planned Thursday.
But McConnell made clear Tuesday that he is ready to compromise.
"We are going to have to get back together to get a solution," the soft-spoken senator said as his voice rose with frustration over the stalemate. "We cannot get a perfect solution, from my point of view - controlling only the House of Representatives – so I'm prepared to accept something less than perfect because perfect is not achievable."
At a news conference Wednesday, Reid said despite the apparent deadlock, a legislative fix could come quickly.
"Magic things can happen here in Congress in a very short period of time under the right circumstances," he said.
Much of the focus in recent days has been on the two bills – one from Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and the other from Reid – that are similar in some respects but different enough that neither can become law without changes to accommodate the other party.
"If it follows the script of almost every other crisis in Congress, a lot of it will happen in private meetings where efforts will be made to reach an agreement and consensus and then bring it to the floor and sell it to the members," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat. "That is usually how it works."
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said he hopes the Boehner bill passes the House and then, "I think we're willing to have conversations" with Democrats.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Montana, said the Boehner bill can't pass the Senate. But he expects Reid and McConnell will get together to work out changes to the Reid bill that will satisfy Republicans.
"That's the most (likely) outcome," the veteran lawmaker said.
"I've never seen anything like this in the years I've been here," Baucus said. "But this world is still run by deadlines. Debt limits and recesses, the two of them will help us put this together."