House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and President Joe Biden clearly defined their areas of disagreement over raising the debt ceiling and cutting federal spending, paving the way for negotiators from both sides to iron out a deal.
Emerging from a 90-minute conversation at the White House on May 22, McCarthy described the meeting in positive terms. The speaker also told reporters he believed an agreement could be passed through Congress before the country defaults on its debt, which could happen as early as June 1.
“I think the tone tonight was better than any other time we’ve had discussions,” McCarthy said. “We still will have some philosophical differences, but I felt it was productive … and I think we were able to really focus on the areas of difference.”
The president likewise characterized the meeting in positive terms and offered hope of a forthcoming agreement to raise the nation’s $31.4 trillion debt limit.
“I just concluded a productive meeting with Speaker McCarthy about the need to prevent default and avoid a catastrophe for our economy,” the president wrote.
“We reiterated once again that default is off the table and the only way to move forward is in good faith toward a bipartisan agreement. While there are areas of disagreement, the Speaker and I, and his lead negotiators Chairman McHenry and Congressman Graves, and our staffs will continue to discuss the path forward.”
Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), who has been a lead negotiator for Republicans, said the meeting provided the clarity from both leaders that their negotiating teams needed to create the specifics of a deal.
“We got very good direction from the speaker and from the president, the speaker to his team, and the president to his team in the same room. We’re on the same page where the same set of issues got to work through it was productive,” McHenry said.
“The teams in the room have built some level of relationship and trust that we can actually get a product that is mutually agreeable to,” McHenry added.
McCarthy declined to name any points of agreement that had been reached or any concessions made by each side. “There’s nothing agreed to. Everything’s being talked about,” he said. “We don’t agree to anything until we agree to everything,” McCarthy added at a later press conference on Capitol Hill.
At issue have been demands by Republicans to limit 2024 federal spending at the 2023 level, limit spending increases to 1 percent annually, increase work requirements for some recipients of Medicaid and Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, clawback on unspent COVID-19 funds, and loosen permitting requirements for oil and gas.
However, McCarthy said only two items are non-negotiable.
“From the first day I sat with the President, there have been two criteria. I told him we’re not going to raise taxes because we bring in more money than we ever have. And we’re not going to pass a clean debt ceiling,” McCarthy said.
“Everything else is open for negotiations. But at the end of the day, it has to fit in that place.”
McHenry and other negotiators will now meet to find common ground based on the priorities stated in the meeting with Biden, according to McCarthy.
“I think the President and I are going to talk every day to try to find a way to get this done,” McCarthy said.
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