By David Lawder and Trevor Hunnicutt
WASHINGTON/WILMINGTON, Delaware (Reuters) – President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy will meet at the White House on Wednesday for talks on the federal debt ceiling and the prospect of a government default. payment from the United States.
Hardline Republican lawmakers are refusing to back a measure that would see the country pay off its debts until Democrats agree to cut spending in the future.
The White House said raising the debt ceiling was non-negotiable, citing the risk to the US economy of default.
Analysts are skeptical that face-to-face talks between the Democratic president and the Republican leader, confirmed by both parties on Sunday, will soon end a high-stakes crisis where members of both parties see scoring opportunities. political points before the US Treasury runs. running out of money to pay his bills this summer.
“The President will ask President McCarthy whether he intends to fulfill his constitutional obligation to prevent a national default, as every other House and Senate leader in U.S. history has done” , a White House spokesman, who requested anonymity, said Sunday.
“He will emphasize that the economic security of all Americans cannot be held hostage to impose unpopular cuts on working families.”
On Sunday, McCarthy said Republicans would not allow a US default and that cuts to Social Security and Medicare would be ‘out of place’ in any debt ceiling negotiations. .
But he added that Republicans want to “strengthen” expensive retirement and health benefit programs for the elderly – a statement the White House has called a euphemism for the cuts.
“I know the president said he didn’t want to have any discussions” about the cuts, McCarthy said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” show. “I want to find a reasonable and responsible way to lift the debt ceiling (and) get control of this runaway spending.”
The US Treasury activated extraordinary cash management measures this month to avoid breaching the $31.4 trillion limit on federal debt imposed by Congress. But without an increase in early June, the Treasury said it could run out of cash to pay government bills, risking the biggest threat of default since a 2011 stalemate.
“There will be no default,” McCarthy said without giving further details. “But what’s really irresponsible is what the Democrats are doing right now, saying you should just raise the limit.”
Biden previously pledged to hold the meeting with McCarthy as part of a series of engagements with the new Congress.
On Sunday, the president’s spokesperson said the talks would cover “a range of issues” and aimed to “strengthen his working relationship” with McCarthy, whose party has been stepping up investigations into Biden since they took control of the House of Democrats after the November midterms. elections.
Biden, who is seeking re-election in 2024, has strongly criticized McCarthy’s Republican caucus. He called them ‘tax crazy’ earlier this month, threatened to veto their legislation and accused them of trying to inflate the deficit, favor billionaires, raise taxes on the middle class and threaten popular benefit programs.
McCarthy and other Republicans in the House and Senate have said they would not support raising the debt ceiling without budget cuts or spending reforms.
The Republican threat to block efforts to raise the debt ceiling is unusual; such increases have been approved on a bipartisan basis in Congress for decades, with the exception of a 2011 vote that called for spending cuts for several years to come.
McCarthy did not provide details of the specific demands and ruled out an increase in the retirement age for Social Security and Medicare benefits.
White House spokesman Andrew Bates said McCarthy’s promise to strengthen programs would lead to cuts.
“For years, Republicans in Congress have argued for cuts in vested benefits using Washington code words like ‘boost,’ as their policies would privatize Medicare and Social Security, raise the age of retirement or reduce benefits,” Bates said in a statement.
The Speaker of the House, who agreed to rules making it easier for his party to oust him over political disagreements, said he would focus on discretionary spending, which has increased dramatically over the past two years with infrastructure and semiconductor legislation passed with bipartisan support and a green energy bill passed by Democrats.
“I think everything, when you look at the discretionary, is sitting there,” McCarthy said. “We shouldn’t just print more money, we should balance our budget. So I want to look at every department. Where can we become more efficient, more efficient and more accountable?”
He said he would also review defense spending to eliminate waste.
Asked if he would support a short-term extension of the debt ceiling through September, with some lawmakers suggesting buying time to pass spending bills, McCarthy said: “I don’t want to not sit and negotiate here. I prefer to sit with the president and have these discussions.”
(Reporting by David Lawder in Washington and Trevor Hunnicutt in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Mary Milliken, Lisa Shumaker, Mark Porter and Deepa Babington and Aurora Ellis)