WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden and congressional leaders, including the top two Republicans, will meet in the Oval Office on Tuesday to begin negotiations to avert a looming default crisis, though neither side expects much progress from the summit.
With the Treasury Department saying the government will run out of money as soon as June 1 unless Congress raises its borrowing limit, Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., have very little time and virtually no pre-existing relationship.
But even sitting down together is considered a big step forward, because so far the White House has refused to negotiate on the debt ceiling and both sides agree that a resolution is essential to avoid the unprecedented economic calamity of a default. .
«The president has made it very clear that he wants to communicate to leaders the urgency of resolving the debt limit and preventing default,» said a White House aide, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Republicans want to tie the spending cuts to an increase in the debt ceiling, leaving a dead end that the two sides have been unable to overcome.
The aide said Biden is not yet willing to negotiate the debt limit itself, but is open to separately discussing the spending cuts that Republicans are seeking as part of the budget process.
“We have made it clear that he wants to have that budget conversation and that he has proposed a way to reduce the deficit in a way that is responsible with both revenue collection and spending cuts. So we’re open to spending cuts. We have made it clear,” said the assistant.
Biden isn’t interested in trying to use the 14th Amendment in a novel way to circumvent the debt ceiling, as some liberal legal scholars have suggested, the aide said, echoing Biden’s insistence that it’s up to Congress alone to raise the limit. of indebtedness.
“He will reiterate that this is the constitutional obligation of Congress and that they must do it. That position has not changed, and he will make it clear,» said the assistant.
Biden also will not go into the meeting with a proposal that lawmakers approve a short-term increase in the debt limit to avoid a crisis while the two sides continue talks. (Last week, the White House was weighing whether to support an extension any time soon.)
«That’s not something the president is going to offer at the meeting,» the aide said.
Republicans, as they did during the Obama administration in 2011 and 2013, are trying to use the threat of default as leverage to force the Democratic-controlled Senate and the president to agree to spending cuts. What, exactly, they hope to cut is unclear, and will likely only be revealed through negotiations.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives last month passed a bill to increase the debt limit that amounted to a wish list of spending cuts and other policies, but Republican lawmakers have privately acknowledged that the bill was more about trying to strengthen their bargaining position than creating legislation. that could become law.
McCarthy says the Republicans will demand something in exchange for his approval to raise the debt ceiling.
“We will not pass a debt ceiling that just raises it without doing something about our debt,” McCarthy told reporters last week during an official trip to Israel.
McCarthy’s team has been telling influential conservatives that it believes Biden will cave and end up making some concessions in line with the GOP bill, a source familiar with the discussions said.
If things go all the way, options that McCarthy has ruled out, such as a bipartisan firing petition, may come back on the table, the source said.
«At the end of the day it’s not going to be pretty,» the source said, adding that McCarthy seemed to have few good options and that anything could happen.
Biden will need the support of not only McCarthy’s House Republicans, but also at least some Senate Republicans and possibly Kentucky’s Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to secure the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster in the Senate.
McConnell, who until recently had steered clear of the issue, said last week that Biden has been too slow to negotiate.
“President Biden has left our nation drifting towards economic disaster,” McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor. “His own administration of him says our nation is only weeks away from a debt crisis, but there has been a complete absence of presidential leadership. President Biden has simply been MIA.
“Senate Democrats and Leader Schumer can make all the angry speeches they want, but they don’t have a bill,” McConnell added, referring to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y. “The only solution is presidential leadership. … Whatever President Biden and President McCarthy can agree to will easily pass in the Senate.”
a new Washington Post–ABC News poll found that Americans were divided on who they would blame if the government defaulted on its debt, and that independent voters were more likely to blame congressional Republicans than Biden.
The White House and Democratic super PACs have been lobbying moderate Republicans in battleground districts in hopes they’ll back down.
Biden will travel to New York’s Hudson Valley on Wednesday, where Republican Rep. Mike Lawler ousted Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney last year, to demand that Congress unconditionally raise the debt ceiling and scrap the tax cut bill. Republican Party spending, which the White House said would cut services for veterans, teachers and others.
That the meeting is taking place works in Biden’s favor, said a former Republican member of the House. In a period of pure partisanship, it seems collegial in calling the four leaders from both parties into the Oval Office to discuss differences, said Joe Walsh, who represented an Illinois district in the House for 12 years.
Biden’s message is ultimately the most reasonable, amounting to: “’Come on, let’s pay our bills before we talk about spending cuts,’” Walsh said. “That is a notion that will resonate with the American people. The Biden team thinks they are in better shape politically and having this meeting makes Biden look better.»