Parties point fingers on stalled debt ceiling talks

Republicans and Democrats are pointing fingers over the seeming lack of progress toward a deal to raise the debt limit, as lawmakers stare down what is likely to be a dramatic months-long stretch in their quest to avoid a default. 

And leaders from both sides aren’t signaling any signs of budging just yet. 

Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) took aim at President Biden on Friday for not coming to the bargaining table in negotiations to raise the debt ceiling, calling it “very unfortunate” and charging the president with “putting the American economy in jeopardy by doing that.”

“I’d like to see that the president negotiate,” he told reporters at the time. “America is too important to play games with.”

McCarthy sat down with the president in early February to discuss the debt ceiling in the pair’s first meeting since Republicans assumed the majority of the House earlier this year. But members say bipartisan talks on the matter haven’t moved much further since then, as both sides harden their positions. 

While Republicans are pressing for significant cuts or fiscal reforms in exchange for their help in raising the debt limit, which caps how much money the Treasury can owe to cover the country’s bills, Democrats have been steadfast that the ceiling be raised without conditions. 

Democrats have also been keen to keep up attacks targeting Republicans in the absence of a partywide plan outlining the House GOP’s desired spending reforms, particularly as the party has its hands full trying to produce a 10-year budget plan while strategizing how to tackle the debt limit later this year.

“What needs to happen is that House Republicans need to show us their plan,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said on Friday. “What is your plan for dealing with the economic health and well-being of the economy and the country?”

“How can you have a discussion about anything if one side has put a plan into the public domain and the Republican budget plan is in the witness protection program?” Jeffries said. “It’s in an undisclosed location.”

Jeffries last week also waved aside the possibility of using a discharge petition to force a House vote on a clean debt limit increase, saying it was up to McCarthy.

“The most viable option right now is for the extreme MAGA [Make America Great Again] Republicans in the House to get their act together and do what they consistently did when Donald Trump was the president of the United States of America,” he told reporters Thursday at a press conference about how a national default would hurt the U.S. economy.  

GOP leaders say they still plan to deliver a budget proposal this year, but the timing remains unclear. And the party has had difficulties in recent months in agreeing on where to curb spending.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), chair of the House Rules Committee, said he thinks a chunk of the conference wants to see some kind of conditions attached to raising the debt limit, but he also said he doesn’t think the party is “in lockstep” when it comes to what those demands should look like.  

“Most Republicans want to restrain spending at some level, and most of them realize that anything could happen. But there’s gotta be a deal,” he told The Hill days back. “And some of them would never vote for a debt limit increase, even if we gave them everything they wanted.”

At the House GOP’s annual retreat in Florida last week, members said they offered various proposals they’d like to see as part of a debt ceiling compromise. 

“We talked about this at our planning retreat, but we never came to a final conclusion,” Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.) told reporters last week, while discussing proposals potentially still on the table in GOP conversations, including ideas dealing with work requirements for Medicaid. 

The Republican Study Committee, the biggest conservative caucus in the House, has also laid out some proposals for spending talks earlier this month, in addition to the House Freedom Caucus, whose pitches for steep cuts to non-defense programs have already added fuel to Democratic attacks.

As for the party’s official budget plan, House Budget Committee Chair Jodey Arrington (R-Texas) told reporters last week that Republicans are still working to “have something on paper, in writing, that the conference can move forward with.”

But the task is easier said than done in a chamber where Republicans can only afford to lose four of their votes to pass legislation, with all members voting and no Democratic support. And then there’s passing the Senate, where Democrats hold the majority. 

“It’s gonna have to be some point where Democrats and Republicans can come together,” Cole said, adding: “The president of the United States should convene a meeting and start talking to the Speaker.”

“Until that happens, nothing’s happening,” Cole added.

At the same time, Republicans have come out in strong opposition to the president’s fiscal 2024 budget request that rolled out earlier this month, which proposes tackling the nation’s deficits through tax increases on the rich, rather than through spending cuts.  

McCarthy panned the proposal as “completely unserious” shortly after its release, saying: “Washington has a spending problem, not a revenue problem.” 

But Democrats have stood by the White House’s marker for spending discussions, and some are eager to see where Republicans stand in the weeks ahead. 

“When you look at the math of all the things they’ve talked about, the math in no way adds up,” said Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Penn.), one of the top Democrats on the House Budget Committee.

“Once they actually have to put pen to paper and offer a budget, that gets exposed,” he argued. “So, I think they will have an enormously difficult job getting to 218 votes.”

Mike Lillis contributed. 

Tags debt ceiling Debt limit Donald Trump Hakeem Jeffries Joe Biden Kevin McCarthy Tom Cole

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