Both Sides Double Down on Debt Ceiling Positions Ahead of Biden–McCarthy Meeting

President Joe Biden has invited House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and other congressional leaders to a meeting on raising the nation’s debt limit, but he has no intention of negotiating on the matter.

Instead, the president will use the May 9 sit-down to remind Republicans of their constitutional duty to raise the debt ceiling and avoid a default on the nation’s financial obligations, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters at a May 2 press briefing.

The remarks echoed Biden’s own comments from the previous day.

“The most important thing we have to do in that regard [the economy] is to make sure the threat by the Speaker of the House to default on the national debt is off the table,” Biden said during remarks to small-business leaders at the White House.

“America is not a deadbeat nation. We have never, ever failed to meet the debt.”

The statements reiterated the president’s insistence that Congress has no choice but to pass an increase in the debt limit as a matter of their constitutional duty to protect the financial integrity of the United States.

NTD Photo
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) speaks following the passage of the “The Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act,” by the House, outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington on April 20, 2023. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

For his part, McCarthy has said he will consider no increase in the $31.4 trillion borrowing limit unless accompanied by spending cuts. “No clean debt ceiling is going to pass the House,” McCarthy told reporters on April 26. “We can’t do that to our children.”

The two have been locked in a standoff over the issue since mid-January, and both appear committed to their positions even as the prospect of a potential default draws nearer by the day.

The president also invited Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to the meeting with McCarthy.

Growing Urgency

The president issued his invitation on May 1, the same day Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen heightened urgency to resolve the debt standoff by informing congressional leaders that the nation would likely reach its debt limit in early June, possibly by June 1.

Having exhausted the “extraordinary measures” at her disposal, Yellen said she would then be “unable to continue to satisfy all of the government’s obligations” unless Congress suspended or increased the borrowing limit.

“I respectfully urge Congress to protect the full faith and credit of the United States by acting as soon as possible,” Yellen wrote.

The timing of Biden’s invitation was not coincidental.

“We knew Secretary Yellen’s letter would be released yesterday, and the President thought it was a good opportunity to remind congressional leaders of the urgency of preventing default,” Jean-Pierre said, adding, “It is their constitutional duty. Congress must act.”

NTD Photo
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington on May 1, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

“After three months of the Biden administration’s inaction, the House acted, and there is a bill sitting in the Senate as we speak that would put the risk of default to rest. The Senate and the President need to get to work—and soon,” McCarthy said in a May 1 statement.

He was referring to legislation passed by House Republicans on April 26 that would temporarily increase the debt ceiling while imposing spending cuts and caps that Democrats find unacceptable.

Origins of the Standoff

Yellen first notified Congress on Jan. 13 that the Treasury was days away from breaching the debt ceiling but could stave off the event using “extraordinary measures” to manage the nation’s bills.

The Treasury must borrow money consistently because Congress has authorized deficit budgets for most of the last 50 years. Since approved spending exceeds tax revenue, the Treasury must borrow funds to meet the obligations already mandated by Congress.

McCarthy has said that Republicans will not allow the country to default on its obligations. But he considers it irresponsible to allow further borrowing without also limiting spending in an effort to slow the rapidly increasing national debt.

Majority Leader Schumer Holds Media Availability On The Debt Ceiling
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks to reporters at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington on April 17, 2023. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

The Republican plan, known as the Limit, Save, Grow Act, is considered a nonstarter by Democrats, who say it would cost over 80,000 jobs, severely reduce services for veterans, and damage the environment by repealing green-energy tax credits.

“It is Congress’s constitutional obligation to act, not hold the full faith and credit of the United States hostage unless we allow them to make cuts to programs hardworking Americans rely upon,” Jean-Pierre said. “Speaker McCarthy’s entire agenda isn’t just unreasonable, it’s dangerous.”

Divided Congress

“Our position remains the same. Both parties can do what we have done in the past, the last three times default faced us. Both parties should pass a clean, bipartisan bill to avoid default together before we hit the critical June 1 deadline,” Schumer said in a floor speech on May 2.

The winner-take-all outcome that both sides appear to be working for may be difficult to achieve in a divided Congress.

Republicans narrowly control the House while Democrats hold a slim majority in the Senate.

McConnell, who has taken a backseat to McCarthy on debt negotiations, said the chance that any measure the Senate could approve by 60 votes would also pass in the House is “essentially zero.”

“This agreement must be reached because we must never default. And the agreement needs to be reached between the speaker and the president,” McConnell said.

Meanwhile, Schumer began moving two bills through the Senate on May 1, a clean two-year debt limit extension, which could be followed by a potentially bipartisan budget bill.

Mitch McConnell
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) walks to the Senate Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on March 2, 2023. (Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

Spending Discussion

While Biden has said he will not negotiate over increasing the debt limit, he is open to discussing spending cuts, according to Jean-Pierre.

“[The president] is going to make it very clear in this meeting that it is Congress’s constitutional duty to act, that he is not going to negotiate on the debt ceiling,” the press secretary said.

“He’s willing to have a separate conversation about their spending, what they want to do with the budget, how they see the appropriations process moving forward, what they see with their spending,” she said.

The president released his 2024 budget proposal and refused any discussion about spending cuts until Republicans released a fiscal plan of their own, which they did a week ago.

“They put forth their vision, their values for the American people. So just a few days after the House Republicans passed their proposal, the president called the four congressional leaders to invite them to a meeting,” Jean-Pierre said.

The White House declined to say whether the leaders had accepted the invitation.

“I would certainly ask their respective offices to see if they accepted the President’s offer,” Jean-Pierre said.

McCarthy has accepted the invitation according to published reports, though his office did not reply to a request for confirmation by The Epoch Times.

The Epoch Times also inquired to see whether Jeffries, Schumer, and McConnell had accepted the president’s invitation, but no responses were received by the time of publication.

Reuters contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times

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