Biden and McCarthy to meet as debt ceiling deadline looms days away

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is scheduled to meet with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., on Monday afternoon to discuss a path forward to avert a debt limit breach, with only days left until the Treasury Department could be unable to pay the nation’s bills.

“I’m hopeful,” McCarthy told reporters Monday about reaching a deal, but added: “I haven’t met with the president yet.” He said “decisions have to be made” in time to avoid a crisis, while adding that he understands Republicans “don’t control the Senate and we don’t control the presidency.”

McCarthy said he’s insisting on an agreement to “spend less” than current levels in a deal, although he was mum when asked if the total amount would be somewhere in between this year and fiscal 2022 levels. McCarthy drew a line against cuts to military spending: “I don’t think you should put America in jeopardy,” he said. “To me, it is off the table.”

On Biden’s way back Sunday from the G-7 summit in Japan, he had a phone call with McCarthy that the speaker described as “productive” and included a request from the president to meet.

The meeting, which is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. ET, follows a frantic few days of staff-level negotiations between the White House and Republican leaders, coming just 10 days before the Treasury Department’s June 1 deadline for Congress to act or risk the first-ever default on U.S. debt.

Negotiators will return from a day of talks on Capitol Hill to brief Biden in person before the two leaders sit down, a White House official said.

One of the biggest questions surrounding the high-stakes meeting is whether Biden and McCarthy can reach a deal that has the votes to pass the Republican-led House and Democratic-controlled Senate in a short period of time. And if a bill is passed with mostly Democratic votes in the House, will McCarthy face an uprising from his hard-line members. A push for sharper budget cuts has become a source of tension inside the Republican caucus, as some conservatives fear McCarthy may be willing to strike a deal with Biden that doesn’t go far enough.

A White House official said Monday that a “reasonable compromise” was still attainable, despite the obstacles in reaching a deal both sides can agree to. The hope is that Biden and McCarthy can come to an agreement on spending, the official said.

Biden addressed the state of the negotiations in Hiroshima, Japan, arguing that Republicans’ “extreme positions” were holding up progress.

“I’ve done my part,” Biden told reporters. “Now it’s time for the other side to move. There are more extreme positions, because much of what they’ve already proposed is simply, quite frankly, unacceptable.”

McCarthy reiterated Monday he will abide by the 72-hour rule before a new bill gets a House vote, and said it’s why he was hoping for an agreement over the weekend.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., adjourned the chamber last week for a pre-scheduled recess but told senators to be ready to return within 24-hour notice.

Negotiations hit turbulence in recent days over the core dispute of how much the federal government should spend in the next fiscal year. McCarthy and Republicans want a substantial cut that Democrats have been reluctant to grant. Democrats calculate that Republicans are proposing discretionary spending cuts of 22% if military programs are exempted, as many in the GOP want.

Arriving at the Capitol on Monday morning, Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., a McCarthy ally, told reporters that the call between the speaker and Biden on Sunday was “productive” and that “it got us back in the room together.”

McCarthy will also have to navigate the demands of conservative hard-liners in his narrow majority, who are pressing for stricter spending cuts and say that the House-passed bill, called the Limit, Save, Grow Act, should be the standard to which they hold any deal.

Biden is facing angst from his party’s left flank over his entertaining some GOP demands, such as stricter work requirements for federal aid programs. Many progressives, uneasy with the negotiations, have called on the president to invoke the 14th Amendment and tackle the debt ceiling unilaterally.

“I’m looking at the 14th Amendment as to whether or not we have the authority. I think we have the authority,” Biden said Sunday at a news conference in Hiroshima. “The question is: Could it be done and invoked in time that it could not, would not be appealed, and as a consequence, pass the date in question, and still default on the debt? That’s a question that I think is unresolved.”

Biden said that after making progress in the negotiations, Republicans had retreated with “a proposal that was very cut back from where they had agreed or discussed.”

“And now I don’t know where — we gave a counterproposal to the counter again,” the president said Sunday. “I know this sounds ridiculous, but that’s what we did. And I’m waiting to hear the response to what we have offered.”

Biden said Republicans have ruled out revenue-raising measures, or tax increases, another source of disagreement, which he said Democrats were standing by.

Biden appeared less certain that Republicans would do whatever was needed to avert default, warning that “he can’t guarantee” Republicans won’t force a situation where the government is unable to pay its bills.

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