Biden, McCarthy to hold pivotal meeting on debt ceiling as time to resolve standoff grows short

With less than two weeks before a potential default, there's still no agreement over the U.S. debt limit. (CNN, HOST TV, POOL, NBC’S MEET THE PRESS)
Published: May. 22, 2023 at 5:30 AM CDT|Updated: 9 minutes ago
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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy are set to meet at the White House at a pivotal moment as Washington works to strike a budget compromise and raise the nation’s borrowing limit in time to avert a potentially chaotic federal default.

Negotiators for the White House arrived Monday back at the Capitol for talks ahead of the afternoon meeting between the Democratic president and the new Republican speaker that will be critical as they race to prevent a looming debt crisis as soon as next week.

After a weekend of start-stop talks, both men have appeared upbeat as they face a deadline, as soon as June 1, when the government could run out of cash to pay its bills.

By Monday morning, McCarthy took a sharper edge, blaming Biden for having refused to engage earlier on annual federal spending, a separate issue but linked to the nation’s debt.

“What we have to do here is get the spending addiction to stop,” McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters as he arrived at the Capitol.

“The Democrats and the president refusing to even to negotiate, no household would run this way,” he said. “That is why we go from crisis to crisis.”

McCarthy said as he has many times before: “We’re going to spend less than we did last year.”

President Biden's grim warning on debt ceiling talks overshadows his gains at G7 Summit and getting more aid to Ukraine. (CNN, Host TV, DVIDS, U.S. Dept.)

The contours of an agreement appear within reach, and the negotiations have narrowed on a 2024 budget year cap that would be key to resolving the standoff. Republicans have insisted next year’s spending cannot be more than current 2023 levels, but Democrats have refused to accept the steeper cuts McCarthy’s team first proposed.

A budget deal would unlock a separate vote to lift the debt ceiling, now $31 trillion, to allow more borrowing to pay bills already incurred. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Sunday that June 1 is a “hard deadline.”

A top Republican negotiator Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina told reporters that a round of talks late Sunday had gone “reasonably well.”

“We know the deadline, we know the challenge,” said McHenry, who is also chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. “People are working in good faith.”

But he said: “All these things are tough.”

“We’ll keep working,” said Steve Ricchetti, counselor to the president, as the White House team exited talks late Sunday.

Biden and McCarthy spoke by phone Sunday while the president was returning home on Air Force One after the Group of Seven summit in Japan. “It went well, we’ll talk tomorrow,” Biden said in response to a shouted question upon his return late Sunday.

The call revived talks, and negotiators met for 2 1/2 hours at the Capitol late Sunday evening, saying little as they left. Financial markets turned down last week after talks stalled.,

McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters earlier Sunday that the call with Biden was “productive,” and Biden told a press conference before departing from Japan: “I think that we can reach an agreement.”

But McCarthy said, “I’ve been very clear to him from the very beginning. We have to spend less money than we spent last year.”

Earlier, Biden used his concluding news conference in Hiroshima, Japan, to say he had done his part by agreeing to spending cuts and to warn, “It’s time for Republicans to accept that there is no deal to be made solely, solely, on their partisan terms.”

“Now it’s time for the other side to move from their extreme position,” he said.

GOP lawmakers have been holding tight to demands for sharper spending cuts with caps on future spending, rejecting the alternatives proposed by the White House that call for reducing deficits in part with new revenue from taxes.

McCarthy has insisted personally in his conversations with Biden that tax hikes are off the table

Republicans want to roll back next year’s spending to 2022 levels, but the White House has proposed keeping 2024 the same as it is now, in the 2023 budget year. Republicans initially sought to impose spending caps for 10 years, though the latest proposal narrowed that to about six. The White House wants a two-year budget deal.

A compromise on those topline spending levels would enable McCarthy to deliver for conservatives, while not being so severe that it would chase off the Democratic votes that would be needed in the divided Congress to pass any bill.

Republicans also want work requirements on the Medicaid health care program, though the Biden administration has countered that millions of people could lose coverage. The GOP additionally introduced new cuts to food aid by restricting states’ ability to waive work requirements in places with high joblessness. But Democrats have said any changes to work requirements for government aid recipients are nonstarters.

GOP lawmakers are also seeking cuts in IRS money and, by sparing Defense and Veterans accounts from reductions, would shift the bulk of spending reductions to other federal programs.

The White House has countered by keeping defense and nondefense spending flat next year, which would save $90 billion in the 2024 budget year and $1 trillion over 10 years.

All sides have been eyeing the potential for the package to include a framework that would speed energy project developments.

And despite a push by Republicans for the White House to also accept parts of their proposed immigration overhaul, McCarthy indicated the focus was on the House’s previously approved debt and budget package.

For months, Biden had refused to engage in talks over the debt limit, contending that Republicans in Congress were trying to use the borrowing limit vote as leverage to extract administration concessions on other policy priorities.

But with June nearing and Republicans putting their own spending legislation on the table, the White House launched talks on a budget deal that could accompany an increase in the debt limit.

McCarthy faces a hard-right flank that is likely to reject any deal, which has led some Democrats encouraging Biden to resist any compromise with the Republicans and simply raise the debt ceiling on his own to avoid default.

The president, though, said he was ruling out the possibility, for now, of invoking the 14th Amendment as a solution, saying it’s an “unresolved” legal question that would become tied up in the courts.


Miller reported and Associated Press writer Josh Boak contributed from Hiroshima, Japan. Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Farnoush Amiri, Colleen Long and Will Weissert contributed to this report from Washington.