The San Juan Daily Star
Biden and McCarthy are set to discuss debt limit as both sides trade barbs
President Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy have blamed each other for the impasse in raising the debt ceiling.
By JIM TANKERSLEY AND CATIE EDMONDSON
President Joe Biden was to meet with Speaker Kevin McCarthy at the White House on Wednesday afternoon for a discussion that carries high stakes: the need to raise the nation’s borrowing limit in order to avoid a financial crisis.
The meeting was to be the first between the two leaders since Republicans assumed control of the House and conveyed the speaker title on McCarthy after a protracted fight.
Republicans have refused to raise the statutory debt limit unless Biden accepts deep cuts in federal spending. The president has said repeatedly that he expects Congress to raise the borrowing cap with no strings attached — and that he will not negotiate conditions for an increase.
Wednesday’s meeting was to take place behind closed doors, but the hours leading up to it highlighted the differences between the White House and the Republicans who now control the House. On Tuesday, Biden and McCarthy blamed each other for the impasse in raising the debt ceiling. The president called the speaker a “decent man” who had caved to extremists in his party to take power.
He made “commitments that are just absolutely off the wall for a speaker of the House to make,” Biden told reporters Tuesday.
McCarthy said Biden’s refusal to negotiate over raising the debt limit was “childish.”
“Why would you put the economics of America in jeopardy?” McCarthy asked reporters. “Why would you play political games? I’m not.”
The Treasury Department is employing a range of “extraordinary measures” to ensure that the United States can continue paying its bills, including interest payments to creditors. But at some point, the country will need to borrow more money to finance its obligations. The nation runs a budget deficit, which means it spends more than it earns, and it borrows huge sums of money to pay everything from military salaries to Social Security benefits.
Economists have widely warned of economic catastrophe if lawmakers do not raise the limit before the government loses the ability to pay all its bills at once, which could happen as soon as June. If the United States cannot borrow more money, it would not be able to make good on a range of financial obligations, including paying bondholders, plunging the nation into default.
Republicans are seeking to use the threat of those consequences to force Biden into a debate over taxes, spending, debt and the size of the federal government.
Both sides have sought to frame the discussion in favorable terms. Republicans have assailed Democrats for runaway spending, pointing to the stimulus package that Biden signed into law. They blame that spending for fueling rapid inflation last year, though price increases have since eased. Republican lawmakers say current federal debt levels are unsustainable and risk undercutting economic growth.
Biden has said frequently that he is willing to reduce deficits by raising taxes on high earners and corporations — moves Republicans oppose. The president and his aides have tried to push Republicans into detailing specific parts of the federal budget they want to cut, betting on a voter backlash to any proposals that touch popular programs like government health care, education and retirement spending.
“Any serious conversation about economic and fiscal policy needs to start with a clear understanding of the participants’ goals and proposals,” Brian Deese, the director of the National Economic Council, and Shalanda Young, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, wrote in a memo Tuesday.
McCarthy is expected to gather his Republican colleagues in a room beneath the Capitol on Wednesday morning to discuss the negotiations and identify red lines for raising the debt ceiling.
“As you can imagine, there are different factions within our party that have different ideas, and we’re trying to come together to see what that might look like over the next couple of weeks and months,” said Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina. “It’s a conversation that we need to have. You have to have a plan. And I don’t know what that looks like yet, but that’s part of our process, having these meetings, debates and discussions, and mapping that out.”
Those meetings — termed “listening sessions” by McCarthy — were a key part of his strategy in 2011, when he needed to persuade unyielding conservative lawmakers swept into power by the tea party movement to vote to raise the debt ceiling.
In his Capitol office, McCarthy, then the majority whip, gently nudged holdouts into naming concessions from the Obama administration that would be substantial enough to pave the way for them to vote for a debt limit deal.
The Republicans’ meeting Wednesday also serves as an effort by McCarthy to pull his restive conference in closer before the White House negotiations. The move may insulate McCarthy from the distrust that plagued Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, during the 2011 debt ceiling crisis.
When Boehner negotiated with President Barack Obama, the discussions stoked concerns among hard-right lawmakers skeptical of the establishment-styled speaker that the two men