McCarthy leaves Biden meeting optimistic about debt talks
Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Wednesday left a meeting with President Biden signaling optimism about the chances of an agreement between the White House and Congress to avoid a government default, though neither side made any commitments.
“I don’t want to put any words in his mouth. We had an hour of conversation about this that I thought was a very good discussion, and we walked out saying we would continue the discussion,” McCarthy told reporters at the White House. “And I think there is an opportunity here to come to an agreement on both sides.”
McCarthy acknowledged that he and Biden had differing perspectives on the debt ceiling, though he did not get into specifics, saying he would not negotiate through the press. Biden and White House officials have said Congress should raise the debt limit without conditions, while some Republicans have argued any vote to raise the debt ceiling should include cuts to government spending.
The Speaker did appear to rule out one compromise idea that has been floated, in which Congress would vote to raise the debt limit in exchange for the creation of a commission studying ways to curb spending.
“I don’t need a commission to tell me where there’s waste, fraud and abuse. … Nobody needs a commission in the American public to tell us that we have spent too much,” McCarthy said.
The White House said in a readout of the meeting that Biden and McCarthy “had a frank and straightforward dialogue.” During the meeting, Biden indicated he would welcome a “separate discussion” with Congress about ways to reduce the deficit.
“President Biden made clear that, as every other leader in both parties in Congress has affirmed, it is their shared duty not to allow an unprecedented and economically catastrophic default,” the White House said. “The United States Constitution is explicit about this obligation, and the American people expect Congress to meet it in the same way all of his predecessors have. It is not negotiable or conditional.”
The meeting marked the first in a long process that’s expected to culminate in early summer. The government is on track to default as early as June if Congress does not raise the debt limit, which could send the U.S. and global economies spiraling. The debt ceiling allows the government to pay for spending commitments it has already made, not future spending.
McCarthy would not make any explicit commitments that the U.S. would not default, which the White House said Biden would ask him to do ahead of the meeting. But he repeatedly spoke positively about the meeting with the president, which came after days of grandstanding between McCarthy, Biden and White House officials.
“There is nothing in there with me walking away that does not believe that at the end of the day we can come to an agreement,” McCarthy said.
Wednesday’s meeting lasted roughly an hour. The meeting focused mostly on the debt ceiling, McCarthy said. The Speaker said he did not talk to the president about the classified documents that were found at his residence and old office, a subject of House GOP investigations.
It marked the first time Biden and McCarthy had sat down in person since McCarthy took the gavel as Speaker last month, when Republicans control of the House.
Prior to the meeting, the White House circulated a memo from National Economic Council Director Brian Deese and Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young stating that Biden would press McCarthy to commit that the U.S. would not default and to release a budget proposal on behalf of House Republicans.
The White House has been critical of McCarthy in recent days for claiming that the GOP wants to strengthen Medicare and Social Security, even as some in his party argue those programs should be reformed in order to balance the government’s budget.
“After months of advocating for slashing Medicare and Social Security benefits, Congressional Republicans owe the American people an answer: will you match President Biden and commit to release your plan for the economy? Yes or no?” White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement earlier Wednesday ahead of the meeting.
Biden has also sought to undercut GOP arguments about wanting to balance the budget by noting that former President Trump added trillions of dollars to the federal deficit during his time in office, while Biden has lowered the deficit by roughly $1 trillion.
McCarthy dismissed the idea that conservatives lack credibility on the issue, arguing that discretionary spending has increased while Democrats were in the majority in the House the past four years.
“I’m not in a place where I’m going to point fingers, I’m in a place of being Speaker of the House,” McCarthy told reporters. “My role right now is to make sure we have a sensible, responsible ability to raise the debt ceiling, but not continue this runaway spending.”
Updated at 5:42 p.m.
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