McCarthy says ‘decisions have to be made’ at debt ceiling meeting with Biden

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., addresses the media after a meeting with with President Joe Biden on the debt ceiling at the White House on Tuesday, May 16, 2023.

Tom Williams | CQ-Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said Monday that “decisions have to be made” at his meeting with President Joe Biden later in the day at the White House, with only 10 days to go until the U.S. risks default.

“We’ve got to have movement” in order to have progress toward a deal to raise the debt ceiling, McCarthy told reporters in the Capitol. “I know where I think people should be able to get to.”

McCarthy spoke following three hours of negotiations between White House and House Republican envoys over how to reach an agreement to raise the debt limit.

Biden and McCarthy’s meeting comes after a dramatic weekend during which talks broke down Friday over an impasse on government spending levels, but resumed several hours later.

The two leaders spoke by phone Sunday evening, a conversation they described as “productive.” It could set the stage for movement toward a deal this week. Biden and McCarthy are set to meet at 5:30 p.m. ET on Monday in the Oval Office.

On Monday, one of the GOP negotiators, Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., said he was “concerned about getting a deal that can pass the House, the Senate, and signed by the president.”

“It’s a complicated piece of math, it is,” McHenry told CNN.

“We’re at a very sensitive point here, and the goal is to get something that can be legislated into law,” he added.

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McHenry was joined in the talks by Rep. Garret Graves, R-La. The White House team is comprised of presidential counselor Steve Ricchetti, Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young and legislative affairs director Louisa Terrell.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen reaffirmed on Sunday that June 1 is the government’s “hard deadline” to raise the debt limit or face a likely first ever national debt default.

“We expect to be unable to pay all of our bills in early June, and possibly as soon as June 1,” Yellen told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“My assessment is that the odds of reaching June 15 while being able to pay all of our bills is quite low,” she said, with the caveat that there would always be uncertainty about exact revenue and payments.

Both Biden and McCarthy have acknowledged that one of the main sticking points in the talks remains the question of spending caps, a key GOP demand but a red line so far for the White House. Raising the debt limit would not authorize new spending, but Republicans have insisted on sweeping cuts to government outlays as part of a deal to hike the borrowing limit.

“The underlying issue here is that Democrats, since they took the majority, have been addicted to spending. And that’s going to stop. We’re going to spend less than we spent last year,” McCarthy said to reporters Monday morning in the Capitol.

Biden is hoping to reach a debt limit deal that would push the next deadline out past the 2024 presidential election. But House Republicans, who so far have endorsed only a one-year hike, say that if Biden wants more time, then he will need to agree to even more cuts.

Over the weekend, the president also faulted Republicans for demanding that huge chunks of federal discretionary spending be exempted from their proposed topline budget cuts, including defense and potentially veterans health benefits.

If these categories were actually to be exempted, Biden explained, then cuts to all the other discretionary spending would need to be much deeper in order to make up the difference.

Across-the-board cuts like these “make absolutely no sense at all,” Biden said Sunday in Japan, where he was attending the Group of Seven Summit. “It’s time for Republicans to accept that there is no bipartisan deal to be made solely, solely, on their partisan terms.”