The debt ceiling dance has begun.
President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) met at the White House for more than an hour on Wednesday, as the two set out on talks about raising the federal borrowing limit and averting a potentially calamitous default later this year.
McCarthy emerged from the meeting sounding optimistic that the two could eventually work out a deal. Calling his talk with Biden a “very good discussion,” he said the two had reached no agreement but would keep talking.
“We walked out saying we would continue the discussion, and I think there is an opportunity here to come to an agreement on both sides,” McCarthy told reporters. “We have different perspectives, but we both laid out some of our vision of where we want to get to, and I believe after laying both out, I can see where we can find common ground.”
Asked if he would accept a commission to identify spending cuts, McCarthy seemed to dismiss the idea.
“Look, I don’t need a commission to tell me where there’s waste, fraud and abuse,” he said. “I don’t need a commission to tell us where we’re spending too much. I don’t need a commission to tell us we’re a $31 trillion debt. Nobody needs a commission in the American public to tell us we have spent too much."
McCarthy later told reporters that he informed Biden that the House would not pass a clean increase of the debt ceiling, but that he was encouraged by the meeting. “The only thing I heard for the last month was I'm not gonna negotiate with you,” he said. “I just spent an hour sitting with the President in the Oval Office talking about what can we do on a debt ceiling. So … that's different than what the last month was.”
The White House, meanwhile, said that Biden and McCarthy “had a frank and straightforward dialogue” and that the president “underscored that he is eager to continue working across the aisle in good faith, after passing historic bipartisan laws during his first two years in office.”
At the same time, the White House maintained its position that Congress must raise the debt limit without conditions, pushing back on Republican efforts to link the debt ceiling and spending cuts.
“President Biden made clear that, as every other leader in both parties in Congress has affirmed, it is their shared duty not to allow an unprecedented and economically catastrophic default. The United States Constitution is explicit about this obligation, and the American people expect Congress to meet it in the same way all of his predecessors have. It is not negotiable or conditional,” the White House said in a readout of the meeting. “The President welcomes a separate discussion with congressional leaders about how to reduce the deficit and control the national debt while continuing to grow the economy.”
What it means: For all the post-meeting optimism, each side’s talking points reinforced their prior positioning.
McCarthy has been looking to force Biden into a negotiation. “We’re eventually going to have to dance together. So when do you want to play the music, now or later?” he told Punchbowl News.
On the other side, the White House continues to insist that the president won’t negotiate over the debt limit and to point out that Republicans boosted the debt limit three times when Donald Trump was president without requiring concessions in exchange. Some Biden officials reportedly are also skeptical that McCarthy could line up members of his party to pass any deal they might strike.
The bottom line: This is going to take a while to play out.