Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Tuesday said there was no movement from either side in debt limit negotiations as a crucial deadline on the matter looms following a White House meeting with President Biden and top congressional leaders.
“Everybody in this meeting reiterated the positions they were at. I didn’t see any new movement,” McCarthy told reporters after the roughly hourlong sit-down in the Oval Office.
Biden convened a meeting with McCarthy, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) It comes just more than a week after Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told lawmakers the U.S. will run out of mechanisms to pay trillions of dollars in debt by June 1.
Asked later at the Capitol if the sides were closer to an agreement, McCarthy responded, “Well, we met, so that’s closer.”
McCarthy also said a staff-level discussion had preceded the Tuesday meeting, which he had requested from Biden but did not publicize. He said the leaders will meet again Friday.
Jeffries struck a more positive tone after the meeting and told reporters the fact every leader agreed to convene Tuesday, that they had “an honest, frank discussion about a path forward,” and that their teams will get together in the days ahead to continue talks is progress.
He added at the Capitol that “everyone is entitled to their own particular perspective, but the fact that everyone in that meeting agreed that we should move forward with real conversations no later than tomorrow morning in terms of the budget and appropriations path to see where we can find common ground is progress.”
McConnell told reporters after the meeting the U.S. “is not going to default,” but he said a solution must ultimately be agreed upon by Biden and McCarthy.
Schumer later told reporters the Democrats in the room asked the Speaker “to take default off the table.”
The Treasury Department has warned the U.S. could breach the debt ceiling by early June, giving lawmakers a truncated time frame to reach a deal to raise the debt ceiling and avoid a default.
Tuesday marked the first time Biden and McCarthy have sat down to discuss the debt ceiling since Feb. 1.
House Republicans last month passed legislation that would raise the debt ceiling while capping government funding hashed out by lawmakers annually as part of the appropriations process at fiscal 2022 levels, a move Democrats warn could amount to steep cuts to popular programs.
The measure would also limit spending growth to 1 percent annually over the next decade with a slew of other proposals aimed at curbing spending, including rolling back several Biden administration actions on student loans and beefing up work requirements for government assistance programs.
The White House has said Biden would veto the bill, which is considered dead on arrival in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
The leaders came to the White House microphones after the meeting, met by a swarm of reporters, to blame the other side for the position they’re in with default looming.
“It is unfortunate that so many of you are here today because the president has denied us to talk for the last 97 days,” McCarthy said. “I’m hoping that the next two weeks are different. I’m hoping this president understands, as the leader of this nation, that you can’t sit back and hold the country hostage.”
Jeffries, on the other hand, said, “The reason why we’re at this point is because of inaction — nothing can be further from the truth.”
While the Speaker argued he did his job to avoid default by passing a bill in the House, Democrats said the GOP legislation was not a step toward a bipartisan conclusion.
“Every time we pass a debt ceiling, it’s bipartisan. His bill doesn’t have a single Democrat in support, and it gets us nowhere because you have to negotiate to get these done,” Schumer said.
Biden and White House officials have been adamant that Congress should raise the debt ceiling without conditions, pointing to decades of precedent under Democratic and Republican administrations.
Emily Brooks and Mychael Schnell contributed. Updated at 10:08 p.m.