Biden, McCarthy Aim To Hammer Out Debt-Ceiling Compromise

The speaker pledged once again that cuts to Social Security and Medicare would be off the table.

AP/Andrew Harnik, file
President Biden meets with congressional leaders in November to discuss legislative priorities for the year. AP/Andrew Harnik, file

Speaker McCarthy says he is looking forward to discussing with President Biden a “reasonable and responsible way that we can lift the debt ceiling“ when the two meet Wednesday for their first sit-down at the White House since Mr. McCarthy was elected to the post.

Mr. McCarthy said Sunday he wants to address spending cuts along with raising the debt limit, even though the White House has ruled out linking those two issues together as the government tries to avoid a potentially devastating financial default. The speaker pledged that cuts to Social Security and Medicare would be off the table.

“I know the president said he didn’t want to have any discussion [on cuts], but I think it’s very important that our whole government is designed to find compromise,” Mr. McCarthy told CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “I want to sit down together, work out an agreement that we can move forward to put us on a path to balance — and at the same time not put any of our debt in jeopardy at the same time.”

Asked whether he would make a guarantee, Mr. McCarthy said, “There will not be a default,” though he suggested that declaration depended on the willingness of Mr. Biden and Democrats to negotiate.

After Mr. McCarthy disclosed the upcoming meeting during the television interview, the White House provided confirmation.

Mr. McCarthy was elected speaker on a historic post-midnight 15th ballot early on January 7, overcoming holdouts from his own ranks and tensions that have tested the new GOP majority ability to govern.

Word of the long-awaited White House meeting comes at a time of divided government in Washington with a debt ceiling crisis brewing and House Republicans ready for confrontation.

Mr. McCarthy has been eager to push Mr. Biden to the negotiating table, hoping to make good on the promises the GOP leader made to holdouts during his campaign to become speaker to pare federal spending back to 2022 budget levels, which would be a sizable 8 percent budget cut.

The White House has made clear that Mr. Biden is not willing to entertain policy concessions in exchange for lifting the debt limit, which is the nation’s borrowing authority. The United States bumped up against that limit earlier this month, and the Department of the Treasury has deployed “extraordinary measures” to stave off a potential default for at least a few more months.

Mr. Biden himself has scoffed at the idea of negotiating spending cuts, telling Democratic congressional leaders last week that Republicans were “genuinely serious about cutting Social Security, cutting Medicare.”

On Sunday, when Mr. McCarthy was asked if he would push cuts to those programs, he said, “Let’s take those off the table.” Pressed on possible defense cuts that he may have promised to House conservatives, Mr. McCarthy responded: “I want to eliminate waste wherever it is. … I want to look at every single department.”

After his appearances, the White House rejected the speaker’s claim, suggesting that Republicans have wanted to cut benefits for years.

“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,” a White House spokesman, Andrew Bates, said in a statement. “House Republicans refuse to raise revenue from the wealthy, but insist they will ‘strengthen’ earned benefits programs.”

The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, Adam Smith, said his party supports a clear fiscal plan for the future but claimed Republicans have been disingenuous in addressing the issue.

“We shouldn’t be negotiating over whether or not we should pay our bills. That’s our position,” Mr. Smith told “Fox News Sunday.” “Right now, the Republicans don’t have a plan. Their plan, as led by the extremists in their party, is to complain about spending, not raise the debt ceiling, but not actually offer a plan that says, ‘This is what we’re going to cut.’”

The coming debt limit showdown has a familiar precedent.

A little more than a decade ago, a new generation of tea party House Republicans swept to power, eager to confront the Obama administration to slash federal spending and curb the nation’s ballooning debt load. As vice president at the time, Mr. Biden was central to those negotiations. But House Republicans and the White House could never strike a deal, causing a fiscal crisis. This time, Mr. Biden and his Democratic allies in Congress are in no mood to broker deals with a new era of hard-line Republicans led by the Freedom Caucus.

Mr. McCarthy pointed to Mr. Biden’s previous experience in trying to negotiate spending cuts and said he’s hopeful the president will be open to listening again.

“I think the president is going to be willing to make an agreement together,” he said.

The New York Sun

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