House Speaker Kevin McCarthy sounded optimistic Thursday about the odds of reaching an agreement on raising the debt ceiling before the U.S. Treasury runs out of cash in as little as two weeks.
“We’re not there, we haven’t agreed to anything yet,” McCarthy told reporters at the Capitol. “But I see the path that we can come to an agreement. And I think we have a structure now and everybody’s working hard.”
McCarthy also spoke highly of the negotiators chosen by the White House, including Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young and top adviser Steve Ricchetti. “I just believe where we were a week ago and where we are today is a much better place because we've got the right people in the room discussing it in a very professional manner with all the knowledge and all the background from all the different leaders and what they want,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer struck a positive note, as well. “We’ve made good progress this week, but the work continues,” he said, adding, “No one will get everything they want.”
Although senators left town Thursday for a 12-day break, Schumer said they would be available on 24-hour notice to address any deal that might be struck between McCarthy and the White House. “The negotiations are currently making progress, as Speaker McCarthy has said he expects the House will vote next week if an agreement is reached, and the Senate would begin consideration after that,” he said.
Worries on the left: A growing number of Democrats are expressing concerns that the White House will give too much away in a deal with Republicans. Led by independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, a group of 11 liberal senators signed a letter urging President Joe Biden to reject any agreement that involves spending cuts or work requirements for social programs, and to ignore the debt limit altogether on constitutional grounds.
The senators — including Sanders and Democrats Tina Smith, Elizabeth Warren, Jeff Merkley, Edward Markey, Mazie Hirono, Peter Welch, Richard Blumenthal, Jack Reed, Sheldon Whitehouse and John Fetterman — accused Republicans of negotiating in bad faith. “Republicans have made it clear that they are prepared to hold our entire economy hostage unless you accede to their demands to reduce the deficit on the backs of working families,” the lawmakers wrote. “That is simply unacceptable.”
Republicans refuse to consider any revenue increases to address the deficit, the senators said, leaving Democrats with a choice between significant spending cuts and the economic catastrophe that would likely result from a default. “Republicans’ unwillingness to consider one penny in new revenue from the wealthy and large corporations, along with their diminishment of the disastrous consequences of default, have made it seemingly impossible to enact a bipartisan budget deal at this time,” they wrote.
As an alternative, the senators called on Biden to take a different approach: “We write to urgently request that you prepare to exercise your authority under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, which clearly states: ‘the validity of the public debt of the United States … shall not be questioned.”
Progressive Democrats in the House are also pushing back against any potential deal that involves spending cuts. Rep. Jamaal Bowman told CNN’s Manu Raju that he was concerned that the White House is giving too much away in the negotiations with McCarthy. “Yes, I’m concerned about that,” he said. “We shouldn’t be negotiating.” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who leads the Progressive Caucus, struck a similar pose, saying, “We should not reward the hostage takers.”
Grumblings on the right: Liberal Democrats aren’t the only ones worried about the shape of the eventual deal between McCarthy and the White House. The far-right House Freedom Caucus released a statement Thursday expressing support for the bill passed by the House that would cut spending by $4.8 trillion over 10 years in exchange for raising the debt limit by $1.5 trillion — terms that can’t gain any kind of bipartisan support.
“The U.S. House of Representatives has done its job in passing the Limit, Save, Grow Act to provide a mechanism to raise the debt ceiling,” the group said. “This legislation is the official position of the House Freedom Caucus and, by its passage with 217 votes, the entire House Republican Conference.”
The group called on “Speaker McCarthy and Senate Republicans to use every leverage and tool at their disposal to ensure the Limit, Save, Grow Act is signed into law,” adding, “There should be no further discussion until the Senate passes the legislation.”
The bottom line: Negotiators say things are going well, but criticism is growing on both the left and the right, reminding everyone of just how difficult it may be to build enough support to turn a McCarthy-Biden agreement into a catastrophe-avoiding law.