Speaker McCarthy visits NYSE, says he supports raising the debt ceiling — with spending cap

Kevin McCarthy
Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy speaks during an event at the New York Stock Exchange in New York, Monday, April 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Kevin McCarthy pledged on Monday to pass legislation to raise the nation’s debt ceiling — but on condition of capping future federal spending at 1% — as he lashed out at President Joe Biden for refusing to engage in budget-cutting negotiations to prevent a debt crisis.

In a high-profile speech at the New York Stock Exchange, McCarthy, the Republican leader who is marking his 100th day as speaker, said the nation’s debt load is a “ticking time bomb” and Biden is “missing in action” as the deadline nears to raise the debt limit.

“Since the president continues to hide, House Republicans will take action,” McCarthy said.

“Defaulting on our debt is not an option,” McCarthy said seeking to shift blame for the standoff and draw the White House back into talks. “The longer President Biden waits to be sensible to find an agreement, the more likely it becomes that this administration will bumble into the first default in our nation’s history.”

McCarthy’s Wall Street address comes as the Washington is heading toward a potential fiscal crisis over the need to raise the nation’s debt limit, now at $31 trillion, and avert a federal default. The Treasury Department has said it is taking “extraordinary measures” to continue paying its bills, but money will run short this summer.

McCarthy faces his own challenges. With his slim majority and less-than-strong grip on power, he has been unable to rally his troops around a budget-cutting proposal that he could offer the White House as a starting point in negotiations.

Still, McCarthy vowed to pass a bill through the House that would raise the nation’s debt limit into next year — putting the issue squarely in the 2024 presidential election — coupling it with a plan to roll back federal spending to fiscal 2022 levels and cap future spending at no more than 1% a year over the next decade.

Republicans also want to attach policy priorities, including imposing work requirements to recipients of government aid that would result in cuts to benefit programs in the federal safety net for poorer Americans.

The House Republicans also want to tack on H.R. 1, an expansive energy bill that would favor oil, gas and coal production — and ease permitting regulations — undoing many of Biden’s climate change-fighting initiatives.

The White House said ahead of McCarthy’s address that “a speech isn’t a plan,” dismissing his overture and reupping pressure on the Republican leader to approve a debt ceiling increase with no strings attached.

“There is one responsible solution to the debt limit: addressing it promptly, without brinksmanship or hostage taking,” said White House Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates.

Once a routine matter, the need for Congress to pass legislation raising the nation’s debt limit to continue paying already accrued bills has increasingly become a political weapon wielded particularly by Republicans as leverage for their policy priorities.

McCarthy is working furiously to unite the “five families” — the various caucuses including the Freedom Caucus, Republican Study Committee and others within the House Republican majority — around a plan that could be presented to Biden to kickstart negotiations.

Federal spending skyrocketed during the COVID-19 crisis, rising to $7.4 trillion in 2021, before sliding back to $6.2 trillion in fiscal 2022, according to Treasury Department data. The nation’s debt load has also climbed steadily, doubling during the George W. Bush administration with the 9/11-era wars overseas and spiking again during the Obama administration as spending rose and tax revenue plummeted during the Great Recession.

The nation runs more than $1 trillion in annual deficits, and the last time the federal budget balanced was 2001.

McCarthy noted that President Ronald Reagan similarly warned of government spending. The cuts the House Republicans want to make are not “draconian,” McCarthy said.

He vowed not to touch the Medicare and Social Security programs important to older Americans that other Republicans want to cut, a move that has drawn fierce blowback from Democrats.

Once, his speech was interrupted by applause from the executives and others at the stock exchange.

The White House and Democrats in Congress have been unwilling to engage in talks with the Republicans, saying Congress must simply raise the debt limit without conditions.

Biden in particular, has been here before as vice president during the 2011 fiscal standoff that sent jitters through the economy as the Republicans demanded steep spending cuts.

The sweeping proposal from McCarthy will likely be too expansive for the White House to consider, but serves as a calling card to push Biden back to the negotiating table.

The split screen on display in New York, though, showed the challenges ahead for McCarthy in focusing on budget matters.

As the speaker delivered his speech, his hard-charging Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan was convening a New York City field hearing focused partly on District Attorney Alvin Bragg who indicted former President Donald Trump on campaign finance and other charges related to alleged hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels and a Playboy model who contend he had sexual relations with them.


Associated Press White House Correspondent Zeke Miller contributed to this report.