President Joe Biden said he thinks he can reach an agreement with Republican lawmakers to raise the debt limit before the U.S. defaults, but House Speaker Kevin McCarthy isn’t as publicly optimistic.

After postponing a meeting with congressional leaders Friday, Biden spoke to journalists Sunday in Delaware. He said, “I remain optimistic because I’m a congenital optimist.”

“I really think there’s a desire on their part as well as ours to reach an agreement,” Biden said. “I think we’ll be able to do it.”

Biden indicated he was open to stricter work requirements for certain government aid programs, which Republicans have called for as a condition to raise the debt ceiling, but he said Medicaid “was a different story,” according to The Associated Press.

“I voted for tougher aid programs that’s in the law now, but for Medicaid it’s a different story, and so I’m waiting to hear what their exact proposal is,” Biden said.

He also said last week he was open to recovering unspent COVID-19 funds, saying he would take a hard look at it and that it was on the table.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy accused Biden of wanting a default and he sent a message to Biden while speaking at a press conference last week: “Do not miss another deadline.”

“Looking at the actions of this president, he doesn’t want a deal, he wants a default,” McCarthy said.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., left, standing next to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks to reporters outside of the West Wing of the White House in Washington, May 9, 2023, following a meeting with President Joe Biden on the debt limit. | Susan Walsh, Associated Press

Biden met with top congressional leaders last week and called the talks “productive,” but he declined to answer questions about how talks have gone since, saying, “I’ve learned a long time ago, and you know as well as I do: It never is good to characterize a negotiation in the middle of a negotiation.”

Biden was scheduled to meet last Friday with McCarthy, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, but the meeting was pushed back and reportedly rescheduled for as early as Tuesday as staff members for the officials have continued negotiations.

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Republican aides reportedly rejected multiple White House proposals to reduce the deficit by closing tax loopholes, including loopholes for cryptocurrency transactions and large real estate investors, according to The Washington Post. Steve Rosenthal, a senior fellow at Tax Policy Center, a center-left think tank, told the Post the crypto and real estate investor loopholes would “close opportunities for taxpayers to reduce their tax liability artificially” and that he believed no one outside the affected industries would find the loopholes defensible.

The U.S. owed money as early as its founding when the new nation had to pay debts owed due to the Revolutionary War, and since 1960, the debt ceiling has been raised 78 times, according to the Treasury Department.

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In the 21st century, the U.S. debt has grown as the government took on expenses like the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the federal response to the Great Recession, and the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which totaled $4.5 trillion for stimulus, COVID-19 testing and mitigation, the Paycheck Protection Loan Program for business owners, state-administered SNAP benefits for low-income households and other expenses.