CINCINNATI — Former Vice President Mike Pence said Tuesday that he and then-President Donald Trump “could have done a better job” keeping federal debt in check.

“The trillions of dollars that we allocate to families, businesses and healthcare in this country during covid is what the government is for during a time of national emergency,” Pence said. «But let me stipulate…we could have done a better job of reining in spending under our administration.»

His assessment, delivered in an exclusive interview, came as President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., squared off in head-to-head negotiations over how to avoid a federal default.

As much as Pence acknowledged the role of the Trump administration in piling up debtcriticized Biden for «runaway federal spending» in his more than two years in office and said it’s up to the president to strike a deal that averts an economic crisis.

“I think it is incumbent on President Biden to sit down today in good faith and find a way forward that has the full faith and credit of the United States,” Pence said.

The Republican-led House of Representatives this month passed legislation that would raise the debt ceiling and reduce spending. Biden and congressional Democrats insist that the cap be raised in a stand-alone measure that does not include other provisions. The Treasury Department estimates that without a new law, the federal government will exceed its borrowing authority as early as June 1.

Despite calling for scrutiny of Social Security and Medicare spending in recent months, Pence, a former member of the House Republican leadership, backed McCarthy’s decision to exclude those programs from House cuts.

“I support that decision,” Pence said, adding that he agrees with McCarthy’s offer to tie other spending cuts to a debt limit increase.

«The American people would like to see evidence that Congress gets it, that it understands that we have to make a down payment on fiscal discipline,» Pence said. “And the modest first steps that the House has enacted here, I think are reasonable. And I think President Kevin McCarthy can and should stand strong to make that deal with President Biden.»