The Game of Debt-Limit Chicken Heats Up
The Debt

The Game of Debt-Limit Chicken Heats Up

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A day after his meeting with congressional leaders yielded little progress toward raising the debt limit, President Joe Biden on Wednesday hit the road to ramp up pressure on House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

At a campaign-style event in Valhalla, New York, Biden criticized McCarthy and the House-passed plan to raise the debt limit, cut spending and roll back key elements of the president’s agenda.

“America is the strongest economy in the world, but we should be cutting spending and lowering the deficit without a needless crisis,” Biden said.

Biden again said the House bill would require a 22% cut to non-defense discretionary spending, including huge cuts to a host of popular programs.

“That’s not my opinion. It’s just basic math,” Biden said.

The president said the bill would put 21 million people at risk of losing Medicaid, cut veterans’ benefits and threaten the economy.

The House bill would return federal spending to fiscal year 2022 levels and cap increases at 1% a year for a decade — but it does not specify how the savings would be achieved or how much specific programs would be cut.

The White House has used that vagueness to argue that aid to veterans would face drastic cuts — a charge that Republicans deny. Biden brought up the cuts to veterans’ care during his meeting with congressional leaders Tuesday, and McCarthy later told reporters that he told the president that was a “lie.” Biden insisted he is right. “If they wanted to protect something, they would have written it down [in their bill] and say we’re protecting it, you can’t cut this program,” Biden said Wednesday.

McCarthy told reporters he will bring a bill to the House floor next week that would fund Veterans Affairs and address that particular argument with the White House.

“If you take out the $138 billion VA discretionary budget, that means that they’d have to find all the cuts from about $700 billion in domestic discretionary spending,” The Washington Post’s Leigh Ann Caldwell and Theodoric Meyer point out — as the White House is sure to do, as well.

More details on Tuesday’s meeting: The White House meeting reportedly was testy at times. Biden told reporters Tuesday evening that “three of the four participants [were] very measured and low key,” but that “occasionally there would be a little bit of an assertion that maybe was a little over the top from the speaker.”

McCarthy reportedly was also the only one of the four congressional leaders who would not commit to taking default off the table. “Even [Senate Republican] Leader McConnell said, unequivocally, no matter what, the U.S. will not default. But McCarthy, Speaker McCarthy alone, refused to take the threat of a catastrophic default off the table,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Wednesday. “I asked him pointedly, I asked him pointedly if he would join us, but during yesterday’s meeting he was the sole holdout.”

Plenty of politics at play: The president’s speech came in a congressional district that he won in 2020 but that is now represented by a Republican, Rep. Mike Lawler. “The venue reflected the president’s heightened efforts to pressure vulnerable Republicans on the debt limit, though Biden at one point veered from that script, praising Lawler as reasonable and moderate,” The Washington Post notes.

What’s next: White House and congressional aides reportedly met Wednesday and will continue their talks. Biden, McCarthy and the three other top congressional leaders are scheduled to meet again on Friday. There’s still no clear path to avoiding a crisis.