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Heading into his May 9 debt ceiling talks with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and other congressional leaders, President Joe Biden joked, “We’re going to solve all the world’s problems.”
But when the meeting was over, the world still had problems, and according to McCarthy, the national debt was very much still one of them.
“Everybody in this meeting reiterated the positions they were at,” the House Speaker told reporters outside the White House. “I didn’t see any new movement.
“The president said the staff should get back together. But I was very clear with the president—we have now just two weeks to go [until potential default].”
Currently, the United States’ federal borrowing cap sits at $31.4 trillion. And although the nation has never defaulted on its debt before, according to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and other economic experts, that may change as soon as early June if the debt limit is not raised.
Heading into Tuesday’s meeting, McCarthy said that it was time for Democrats to come to the table and negotiate on spending cuts.
“Ninety seven days ago, I met with President Biden to discuss how he can avoid defaulting on our national debt,” McCarthy noted in a tweet. “For 97 days, he has ignored the crisis.
“House Republicans are the only ones in Washington who have passed a responsible debt limit increase that avoids default,” he added.
“Today is a new opportunity for Democrats to find common ground and act responsibly for future generations.”
After the summit, McCarthy said that the president had conceded there were some areas where he would consider budget cuts, but did not offer any specifics.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) speaks to the press after meeting President Joe Biden and other leaders at the White House in Washington on May 9, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
Noting that he was “hopeful” that the two sides could find those areas of common ground, the speaker added, “I think the best thing that we can do is find places where we can eliminate waste, find places that we can grow this economy, and that’s exactly what the House bill does.”
In April, House Republicans passed the “Limit, Save, Grow Act,” which would cap federal spending for fiscal year 2024 at 2022 levels to help offset raising the debt ceiling by $1.5 trillion, or through March 2024.
But during a press briefing earlier that day, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre did not appear to take that plan seriously, accusing Republicans of “manufacturing a crisis” and failing to do their job.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington on May 9, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
“If House Republicans get their way, it could … trigger a recession, and we’ve listed over and over again what this could be if they continue to hold the American economy hostage,” she said. “That’s going to be our focus, that’s going to be the president’s focus today—to make that clear to the leaders that they have to do their congressional duty.”
Default, she added, is “not negotiable.”
The Senate majority leader echoed the White House’s position later, holding that Republicans were “holding default hostage” by refusing to take it off the table, and that budget cuts should be negotiated at a later date.
“To use the risk of default, with all the dangers that has for the American people, as a hostage, and say, ‘It’s my way or no way,’ … is dangerous,” Schumer said. “So, we repeat our plea to Speaker McCarthy: Take default off the table, and let’s resume negotiations in the budget process and the appropriations process.”
Despite the White House’s assertions that the debt dilemma was created by Republicans, Maya MacGuineas, president of the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said she feared that both sides’ political posturing over the issue was an illustration of “how broken Washington is.”
“The debt ceiling has, for decades, in fact, been increased without huge drama, without thinking we’re going to default,” MacGuineas told The Epoch Times’ sister outlet, NTD News. “But it’s also often been attached to policies that would help improve the fiscal situation. In many ways, it’s one of the only times that it forces policymakers to stop, pause, and look at the fiscal trajectory and see whether it’s safe or not. And right now, it clearly isn’t.”
Both Democrats and Republicans, she contended, appeared to be more focused on political narratives and elections than governing the country.
“We don’t hear much about compromising,” she noted.
However, MacGuineas also stressed that simply allowing the country to default, as has been proposed by some Republicans, would be irresponsible.
“We have to lift the debt ceiling,” she said. “It merely reflects commitments we’ve made in the past.
“And if what you want to do is be really fiscally responsible—which I would encourage our lawmakers to do—what they should do is promise not to pass any more legislation that includes additional borrowing. Unless it’s an emergency, there’s no reason that the country should be borrowing more. We should be working to get the borrowing that’s already on the books under control.”
No Quick Fix
One matter both camps were able to agree upon Tuesday was that a short-term debt limit hike to extend the time for negotiations was not on the table.
“No, we shouldn’t kick the vote,” McCarthy told reporters on Capitol Hill prior to the meeting. “Let’s just get this done now.”
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) (L) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) (R) speak to the press after meeting President Joe Biden and other leaders at the White House in Washington on May 9, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
Likewise, when asked about McCarthy’s comments, Jean-Pierre said: “A short-term extension is not our plan, either. … This can be easily resolved. This is a man-made crisis that the speaker is leading.”
But reaching that place of resolution, McCarthy noted after the meeting, could be difficult if Democrats are unwilling to compromise.
“I want the American people to understand: Is it too much that we ask that we simply spend what we spent five months ago? Is it too much to ask that we find waste in government? … If that’s too much for the Democrats, tell me what they think is right.”
However, McCarthy added that just the fact that Biden was willing to meet with him was progress. And with another meeting set for May 12, perhaps additional progress will follow.