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McCarthy, Biden to meet Wednesday for debt limit talks

Tony Czuczka, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Joe Biden have agreed to meet Wednesday to discuss raising the U.S. debt ceiling, reducing government spending and avoiding a sovereign default.

“We’re going to meet this Wednesday,” McCarthy said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “I want to find a reasonable and a responsible way that we can lift the debt ceiling” and “take control of this runaway spending.”

The planned meeting, which was confirmed by a White House official, will pit McCarthy’s call for spending cuts as a condition of any deal against Biden’s refusal to treat the federal debt ceiling as a bargaining chip.

“Now I know his staff tries to say something different, but I think the president is going to be willing to make an agreement together,” McCarthy said. “I’m hopeful.”

In a statement on Jan. 20 looking ahead to a meeting with McCarthy, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre emphasized Biden’s stance that “the debt ceiling is not a negotiation” but “an obligation of this country and its leaders to avoid economic chaos.” Biden expects Congress to “do their duty” and raise the ceiling, she said.

McCarthy said that while reductions in Social Security and Medicare should be “off the table,” all discretionary spending, including the U.S. defense budget, should be reviewed for waste. The California Republican declined to speculate on the chances of a short-term extension of the federal debt ceiling, a stopgap that House Republican leaders are considering proposing.

“We’re not going to default,” he said.

The White House took aim at McCarthy’s comment on CBS that “strengthening” Medicare and Social Security is a Republican policy goal, though he said he wasn’t calling for lifting the U.S. retirement age.

It’s “the latest giveaway” that House Republicans want to cut both programs, White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement.


Without congressional action, the Social Security trust funds will be insolvent by 2035 and the Medicare hospital fund will reach that point by 2028. Democrats have proposed raising the payroll tax cap for Social Security, a measure most Republicans have rejected.

After a hard-fought battle to win the House speakership, McCarthy is under pressure from his caucus to win spending cuts. And a group of two dozen Republican senators warned Biden last week they won’t support a debt ceiling increase without “structural” changes to U.S. spending.

The U.S. can’t “continue just to spend more money and leverage the debt and the future of America,” McCarthy said Sunday. “We’ve got to get to a balanced budget.”

By law, the federal government’s debt cannot exceed $31.4 trillion, a cap that was reached on Jan. 19. The U.S. Treasury has said it can hold out at least through early June by using special accounting maneuvers, but may default on payment obligations any time after that if the limit isn’t raised.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a Bloomberg interview last week that failing to raise the ceiling would be “a calamity.”


(With assistance from Justin Sink and Erik Wasson.)

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