There was no surprise breakthrough.
Republican leaders emerged from a White House meeting with President Joe Biden to discuss the need to raise the debt limit signaling that little had changed after their roughly hour-long session — but that staff members would continue to talk and that leaders will hold another meeting on Friday.
"Everybody in this meeting reiterated the positions" they had going in, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said afterward. "I didn't see any new movement."
McCarthy slammed Biden repeatedly in talking to reporters after the meeting, arguing that the president has wasted 97 days since February 1, when they last met on the debt. Asked whether he saw any progress coming out of the meeting, McCarthy said just the fact that they met was a positive change.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell insisted that any solution to the standoff should be negotiated by the president and the speaker. “There is no sentiment in the Senate — certainly not 60 votes, for a clean debt ceiling — so there must be an agreement, and the sooner the president and the speaker can reach an agreement, the sooner we can solve the problem,” he said.
McConnell insisted though that default is not an option. “The United States is not going to default. It never has and it never will,” he said.
McCarthy would not go quite as far. “I’ve done everything in my power to make sure we will not default,” he said, noting that the House had passed a bill to raise the debt limit.
The White House had said prior to the meeting that Biden would insist that a “clean” increase in the debt limit is the only path to resolving the stalemate.
“I mean, people have asked, ‘Will the President give Speaker McCarthy an off-ramp, an exit strategy?’ The exit strategy is very, very clear—do your job, Congress must act to prevent a default,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. And National Economic Council Deputy Director Bharat Ramamurti told CNN on Monday that “there is no plan B.”
The White House has also escalated its rhetoric in recent days, warning, for example, that the spending cuts in the House Republican plan would “supercharge the fentanyl crisis” by slashing law enforcement agents. Biden is also expected to hammer the GOP negotiating position at a Wednesday event in New York’s Hudson Valley, in a congressional district he won in 2020 that is now represented by Republican Rep. Mike Lawler, who won his seat in a close race. The White House has said the president “will discuss why Congress must avoid default immediately and without conditions, and how the House Republican Default on America Act will cut veterans’ health care visits, teachers and school support staffs, and Meals on Wheels for seniors.”
The two sides apparently agree on two things: Neither wants a short-term extension of the debt limit (though they have not necessarily ruled it out completely) and both argue that can this whole mess be settled quickly if only the other side capitulates.
“This can be easily resolved,” Jean-Pierre told reporters. “This is a man-made crisis that the speaker is leading.”
McCarthy similarly dismissed the idea of an agreement to reset the deadline to the end of the fiscal year on September 30. “Why continue to kick the can down the road?” McCarthy told reporters at the Capitol. “Let’s solve it now.”
The speaker said earlier in the day that a deal would be needed by next week if lawmakers are to raise the ceiling in time to meet a possible June 1 deadline.
Punchbowl News reports that “What McCarthy is truly aiming for is a deal that puts spending caps in place and cuts spending year over year. He also wants permitting reform, which the White House has been open to in the past. It will be up to McCarthy to sell a deal like this to House Republicans — if it happens.”
The bottom line: McCarthy and Biden are flirting with disaster, but they may have to get to the brink of a catastrophic failure before they can find some path forward.