McCarthy and Biden to meet on spending and debt ceiling; McCarthy says there will be no default

The speaker said the president had to "find compromise" with House Republicans.

January 29, 2023, 6:44 PM

Speaker Kevin McCarthy says he is set to meet with President Joe Biden on Wednesday to discuss the Republican House majority's views on federal government spending and raising the country's borrowing limit in order to avoid a debt default.

"I know the president said he didn't want to have any discussions, but I think it's very important that our whole government is designed to find compromise," McCarthy said during an appearance on Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation."

"I want to find a reasonable and a responsible way that we can lift the debt ceiling but take control of this runway spending," McCarthy said, later adding, "I don't think there's anyone in America who doesn't agree that there's some wasteful Washington spending that we can eliminate."

A White House official confirmed that Biden will host McCarthy at the White House on Wednesday. They will have “a discussion on a range of issues,” the official said, adding that this is “part of a series of meetings with Congressional leaders at the start of this new Congress.”

“The President will ask Speaker McCarthy if he intends to meet his Constitutional obligation to prevent a national default, as every other House and Senate leader in U.S. history has done, and as Leaders [Mitch] McConnell, [Chuck] Schumer and [Hakeem] Jeffries have pledged to do," the official said. "He will underscore that the economic security of all Americans cannot be held hostage to force unpopular cuts on working families.”

The official said Biden “looks forward to strengthening his working relationship with Speaker McCarthy” and will also discuss plans for economic growth while lowering the deficit, and ask the GOP leader for his plan.

“The President will ask what the Speaker’s plan is, since the first bill he put on the floor would increase the deficit by more than $100 billion in order to protect wealthy tax cheats and other proposals from House Republicans would cut Social Security, Medicare and other critical programs that working families and seniors have earned," the official added.

The White House has repeatedly said that Biden will not negotiate or compromise by tying a debt limit increase to spending cuts, with the administration pointing to the bipartisan history of the ceiling being increased by both parties over the years.

The debt limit doesn't allow government spending on new programs; rather, it allows the U.S. to borrow any money it needs to pay for what Congress has already authorized.

"Attempts to exploit the debt ceiling as leverage will not work," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters earlier this month. "There will be no hostage taking."

The president and his aides have also argued Republicans want to use spending talks to push for cuts to Medicare and Social Security, which McCarthy said on Sunday was "off the table."

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of Calif., speaks on Capitol Hill, Jan. 10, 2023, in Washington.
Alex Brandon/AP, FILE

"If you read our 'Commitment to America,' all we talk about is strengthening Medicare and Social Security," McCarthy said, referring to a plan he unveiled for his party before the 2022 midterms.

Pressed on what he meant by strengthen -- and whether he saw that as including changes to the programs like raising the retirement age -- McCarthy said: "No, no, no. What I'm talking about Social Security, Medicare, you keep that to the side."

He insisted that he wants to work with Democrats to pass a budget but that government spending needs to come "under control." He did not completely take defense cuts off the table, saying he wants to "make sure it's effective and efficient."

"I want to look at every dollar no matter where it's being spent," he said. "I want to eliminate waste wherever it is."

The speaker also did not say if he would support a short-term debt limit extension to buy more time for negotiations but said that he intended to see the government continue to be funded.

"There will not be a default. But what is really irresponsible is what the Democrats are doing right now, saying we just raise the limit. ... They won't even negotiate. We have now till June," he said.

The federal government hit the current debt ceiling, about $31.4 trillion, earlier this month.

Since then, the Treasury Department has employed "extraordinary measures" along with its usual cash flow to keep its bills paid, though that is expected to be depleted by June, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said.

PHOTO: FILE - President Joe Biden, right, speaks with congressional leaders, Nov. 29, 2022, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, of N.Y.
Andrew Harnik/AP, FILE

"I want to sit down together, work out an agreement that we can move forward, to put us on a path to balance," McCarthy said Sunday, "[and] at the same time, not put any of our debt in jeopardy."

In a statement after his interview, the White House accused him of being "evasive" on his conference's plan for government spending.

"For years, congressional Republicans have advocated for slashing earned benefits using Washington code words like 'strengthen,' when their policies would privatize Medicare and Social Security, raise the retirement age, or cut benefits. It's like saying, 'you're not being laid off – we just want to make a change,'" White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said.

"House Republicans refuse to raise revenue from the wealthy, but insist they will 'strengthen' earned benefits programs. You do the math. They have – they just won't show you," Bates said.

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