While high level negotiations over the debt ceiling continued Monday, President Joe Biden said he was “optimistic,” after both he and Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., agreed that “default is not on the table.”
But Rep. Patrick McHenry, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee and one of the chief negotiators for Republicans, characterized the talks as only “reasonably productive.”
“What I sense from the White House is a lack of urgency,” said McHenry.
Biden and McCarthy spoke briefly to reporters after their early evening meeting. McCarthy then spoke to reporters outside the White House and in the Capitol.
McCarthy said the talks were “productive” but that they had not made much progress. One of the sticking points is over how to reduce the budget deficit — Biden wants to include tax increases for wealthy Americans in the final deal, but McCarthy said tax hikes were off the table.
He said Republicans had three stipulations they would stick to for a final agreement: they won’t raise taxes, they won’t pass a clean debt ceiling bill, and spending for the year needs to come in lower than last year’s.
“Everything else is up for negotiation,” McCarthy told the press after his talks with the president ended for the day.
House Democrats critical of GOP
But speaking to reporters Monday, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said Biden offered to freeze spending, “an inherently reasonable place to be,” and Republicans turned that down.
Jeffries said he’d like to see government spending increase this year, as outlined by Biden’s budget proposal. He characterized Republican demands to cut spending in exchange for a debt ceiling increase as “extreme” and “unreasonable.”
Meanwhile, McCarthy said federal government revenue is currently higher than is typical, as compared to the size of the economy, and he believes government has a spending problem, not a revenue problem.
He also repeated Republican frustration with the delay in getting negotiations started, saying it took “97 days” for Biden to come to the table. For several months, Biden repeatedly said he would only sign a clean debt ceiling bill, but when House Republicans passed a debt ceiling increase, it was tied to spending reductions and reforms.
The Senate has not passed a debt ceiling increase yet, McCarthy pointed out. Neither chamber is likely to pass a “clean,” condition-free bill.
June 1 deadline for default
McHenry struck a slightly less positive tone than McCarthy after talks Monday, expressing frustration with the pace of negotiations given the looming June 1 deadline, saying “brinksmanship is not wise.”
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said the nation could default on its debt as early as June 1 if the debt ceiling hasn’t been raised.
“The Speaker has made clear to his negotiating team ... that it was very important that we spend less money next year than we were spending this year ... and to negotiate the most conservative terms we possibly can, but one that can pass the Senate and be signed by a Democrat president,” said McHenry.
Besides spending cuts, negotiations also included discussions over making permitting easier for energy projects, McCarthy said.
McCarthy praised the White House negotiators, saying they were “principled” and “professional.” He said he assumed he would speak to Biden “every day” until they reach an agreement.
72 Hour rule in the House
Negotiators are running out of time to reach a deal. A rule in the House requires that lawmakers have 72 hours to review a bill before voting on it.
McCarthy said he may opt to cancel the House’s Memorial Day recess if they need to stay to vote on a debt ceiling bill, according to the Washington Examiner.