President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy will meet in person on Monday as the government races against a looming deadline to raise America’s debt limit before federal funds potentially run dry early next month.
The leaders spoke by phone Sunday as the president returned home on Air Force One after the Group of Seven summit in Japan. McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters at the Capitol that the call was “productive” and that the on-again, off-again negotiations would resume later in the day.
Both sides have said progress was being made but that they remain far apart. Biden’s Treasury Department has said it could run out of cash as soon as June 1, and U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Sunday, “I think that that’s a hard deadline.”
McCarthy said after his call with Biden that “I think we can solve some of these problems if he understands what we’re looking at.” The speaker added, “But I’ve been very clear to him from the very beginning. We have to spend less money than we spent last year.”
The Republican leader said “there’s no agreement on anything” and that ”we’ve all said our piece about where we are and we’re trying to find common ground to get this done.”
Their conversation followed an exchange of harsh rhetoric reflecting the high stakes of the standoff.
Biden said at a news conference in Hiroshima that House Republicans must move off their “extreme positions” on the now-stalled talks over raising the debt limit and that there would be no agreement to avert a catastrophic default only on their terms.
McCarthy said that based on earlier discussions, “I felt that we were at a place where we could agree together that we would have compromise,.” Now, he said on Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures,” “the president, even though he was overseas, thought to change places.”
Biden made clear before leaving Japan that “it’s time for Republicans to accept that there is no deal to be made solely, solely, on their partisan terms.” He said he had done his part in attempting to raise the borrowing limit so the U.S. government can keep paying its bills, by agreeing to significant cuts in spending. “Now it’s time for the other side to move from their extreme position.”
Biden had been scheduled to travel from Hiroshima to Papua New Guinea and Australia, but cut short his trip in light of the strained negotiations with Capitol Hill.
Even with a new wave of tax revenue expected soon, perhaps giving Washington more time to negotiate, Yellen said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that “the odds of reaching June 15, while being able to pay all of our bills, is quite low.”
With that time pressure in mind, Biden said it was his guess that McCarthy would “want to deal directly with me in making sure we’re all on the same page.” A compromise remained within reach, the president said, despite their differences.
“I’m hoping that Speaker McCarthy is just waiting to negotiate with me when I get home,” he said. “I’m waiting to find out.”
GOP lawmakers are holding tight to demands for sharp spending cuts, rejecting the alternatives proposed by the White House for reducing deficits.
Republicans 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. That idea, when floated under President Donald Trump, was estimated to cause 700,000 people to lose their food benefits.
GOP lawmakers are also seeking cuts in IRS money and asking the White House to accept parts of their proposed immigration overhaul.
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.
“I think that we can reach an agreement,” Biden said, though he added this about Republicans: “I can’t guarantee that they wouldn’t force a default by doing something outrageous.”
Republicans had also rejected White House proposals to raise revenues in order to further lower deficits. Among the proposals the GOP objects to are policies that would enable Medicare to pay less for prescription drugs and the closing of a dozen tax loopholes. Republicans have refused to roll back the Trump-era tax breaks on corporations and wealthy households as Biden’s own budget has proposed.
Biden, nonetheless, insisted that “revenue is not off the table.”
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 the June 1 X-date and Republicans putting their own legislation on the table, the White House launched talks on a budget deal that could accompany an increase in the debt limit.
Biden’s decision to set up a call with McCarthy came after another start-stop day with no outward signs of progress. Food was brought to the negotiating room at the Capitol on Saturday morning, only to be carted away hours later. Talks, though, could resume later Sunday after the Biden-McCarthy conversation.
The president tried to assure leaders attending the meeting of the world’s most powerful democracies that the United States would not default. U.S. officials said leaders were concerned, but largely confident that Biden and American lawmakers would resolve the crisis.
The president, though, said he was ruling out the possibility of taking action on his own to avoid a default. Any such steps, including suggestions to invoke the 14th Amendment as a solution, would become tied up in the courts.
“That’s a question that I think is unresolved,” Biden said, adding he hopes to try to get the judiciary to weigh in on the notion for the future.