Speaker McCarthy plants GOP flag at debt talks with Biden
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy met with President Biden on Wednesday for one-on-one talks over raising the U.S. debt ceiling, a faceoff that marked a sea change in Washington as Republicans grabbed a seat at the negotiating table.
Mr. McCarthy emerged from the White House with the negotiations still up in the air but voicing optimism that his hourlong conversation with Mr. Biden set a new tone after two years of single-party rule.
“The president and I had a good first meeting,” he said. “We have different perspectives, but we both laid out some of our vision of where we want to get to. I believe, after laying all of that out, I can see where we can find common ground. I think the American people would appreciate that.”
Mr. McCarthy, California Republican, said he made it clear to Mr. Biden where the House stood in the debt talks.
“The current path we are on, we cannot sustain. We’ve got to change the trajectory to put us on a path to balance. How we get there will be our discussions,” he said.
The talks capped weeks of partisan back-and-forth over Republican demands that the White House and Democrat-led Senate agree to negotiate spending levels before the House would raise the nation’s borrowing limit.
Last month, the Treasury Department began taking “extraordinary measures” to stave off default when the government hits its $31.4 trillion borrowing capacity. Those emergency measures are expected to give the government enough breathing room to cover day-to-day expenses until the summer.
Mr. Biden initially balked at Mr. McCarthy’s demands for negotiations. He called on Congress to raise the debt ceiling “without conditions” and accused Republicans of using the full faith and credit of the nation as a bargaining chip in their quest to cuts vital social programs such as Social Security.
The president later let down his guard by agreeing to meet with Mr. McCarthy. Republicans saw it as a win for the party but cautioned that they were still far from declaring victory on the debt ceiling.
Rep. Jim Banks, Indiana Republican, applauded Mr. McCarthy for putting his foot down and sending a stern message that current debt and spending were unacceptable.
“We have the majority at this point,” he said. “Our voters expect us to use it.”
Others chalked the White House sitdown as a win for both sides, with Republicans gaining a seat at the table and the president appearing to live up to his pledge of bipartisanship.
“It’s a win for Republicans, because at least they get acknowledged, which is not so bad for the president,” said Democratic strategist Hank Scheinkopf. “It is also a win for the president because it indicates he’s prepared to sit down with people who’ve said they want to destroy him effectively.”
“It is a moment of sanity which we need a lot more of,” he said.
It also added to other wins for House Republicans as they find their legislative stride.
On Monday, the House forced Mr. Biden’s hand in declaring an end to the COVID-19 pandemic emergency. The president announced the emergency would end, though not until May 11, to preempt a vote on a House Republicans bill to immediately end the emergency. The bill garnered support from all Republicans and 11 House Democrats in a vote Tuesday.
Despite Mr. Biden’s meeting with the speaker, the White House continued to trade barbs with Republicans over the debt limit. In a memo released ahead of the talks, the White House called on Republicans to avoid “debt limit brinksmanship” as the clock counts down toward default.
The White House also called on Republicans to release detailed budget blueprints outlining how the party intends to reduce the budget.
Mr. Biden, according to the memo, is expected to release his budget on March 9. The White House said it will “show how the president plans to invest in America, continue to lower costs for families, protect and strengthen Social Security and Medicare, and reduce the deficit.”
The memo added, “Speaker McCarthy has said that reducing the deficit is a top priority for him and his caucus. So far, however, House Republicans have offered up detailed plans to increase the deficit with tax policies that would benefit the wealthiest Americans.”
Mr. McCarthy has said that Social Security and Medicare are off the table in the debt-reduction talks.
Mr. McCarthy’s bargaining position in talks with Mr. Biden, however, is potentially weakened by his tenuous grip on Republican firebrands who wield outsized power in his slim majority. Mr. McCarthy must appease hardline conservatives in the conference who want a return to 2022 spending levels, which would entail cuts to the military and various other sectors of the federal budget.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, who launched a bid to block Mr. McCarthy from the speakership, said the Republicans will have no room for celebration until they have spending cuts in hand. But he said that he has been “encouraged” by conversations with his colleagues and is confident the party can coalesce around a common strategy.
Mr. McCarthy said to stay tuned for extensive negotiations with the White House.
“I’ve just walked out having an hour conversation with this president, that I can tell you in perspective was a good conversation,” he said. “No agreements, no promises, except we will continue this conversation. I want to continue it on behalf of the American people, on behalf of the parents, on behalf of every taxpayer here that we put ourselves on his trajectory that makes America stronger, secure and balanced.”