House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) vented frustration over President Joe Biden’s unwillingness to reduce federal discretionary spending in 2024 in exchange for lifting the debt ceiling.
“It didn’t seem like it’d be this hard,” McCarthy told reporters at midday on May 24.
The Speaker then listed a litany of complaints against Biden and the Democrat party.
McCarthy said that Democrats have overspent, driving the country into debt, causing inflation, increasing dependence on China, and causing four bank failures, all while the president refused to negotiate on raising the debt ceiling for more than three months.
Though he expressed hope that an agreement could still be reached in time to prevent a default on U.S. obligations, McCarthy often struck a defensive tone.
“I’m not a senator. I don’t control the Senate. Why didn’t they pass something? The president didn’t talk to us for 97 days. So don’t blame me for reaching out to the Democrats, for begging the president to meet with me, and trying to find [a solution],” McCarthy said.
The Limit, Save, Grow Act—a Republican plan to increase the debt ceiling while reducing federal spending—passed the House on April 26 by one vote.
The measure would reduce federal spending in 2024, cap spending growth for 10 years, increase work requirements for some recipients of social services, take back unspent COVID-19 funds, and loosen permitting requirements for oil and gas.
The Treasury could lack the funds to meet all financial obligations in full as soon as June 1 without additional borrowing, according to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
“It’s not my fault that the Democrats today have become so extreme, so far toward the socialist wing that they are now opposed to work requirements, that they are now opposed to saving $1 less than you spent the year before. That, to me, really seems that the problem [is] the Democrats,” McCarthy said.
Republicans began by demanding that federal discretionary spending for 2024 be reduced to the 2023 level. That has emerged as a central sticking point in negotiations. However, McCarthy has lately used the phrase “spend less than we spent last year,” perhaps signaling a willingness to accept a smaller spending cut.
“When have I ever said, ‘You have to agree to 100 percent of what I want?’” McCarthy asked, indicating his willingness to make some concessions to Democrats. However, he reiterated his one non-negotiable: no increase in the debt limit without some agreement to reduce spending in 2024.
Asked whether the public would blame Republicans if a default resulted from the the fight over the debt ceiling, McCarthy first brushed off the suggestion that a default would occur. He then shifted any blame for the current impasse to Democrats.
“I don’t think I have to say who’s to blame. If the Republicans have passed a bill that raised the debt ceiling, did it in a responsible, sensible way, I think the American people understand that.” McCarthy added.
Democrats continue to portray the disagreement in opposite terms, accusing McCarthy and the GOP of using the debt limit to strong-arm their agenda into law rather than following the legislative process.
“I just heard Kevin McCarthy’s press conference. It sounds like he really is anxious to have a default on the debt, which I think would be damaging to our economy,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.).
“You know, he’s not negotiating. He’s giving us ransom notes,” McGovern added, evoking the metaphor often used by the president that Republicans are holding the U.S. economy hostage to their demands.
“This is about paying bills we’ve already accumulated,” McGovern said of the debt ceiling negotiation. “If you don’t want to accrue these bills, then don’t spend. But the place to do that is in the appropriations process.”
About 60 percent of Americans believe Congress should raise the debt ceiling only if spending cuts are also made, according to a poll by CNN and SSRS released May 24. About 24 percent of respondents said the limit should be raised no matter what.
Just 31 percent of respondents said the president has the right priorities, though the number for Republicans was 29 percent. Only 35 approved of the way Biden is handling the federal budget.
Despite the impasse in negotiations, McCarthy said he is determined to find a solution.
“I am not going to give up. We’re not going to default. We’re going to solve this problem. I will stay with it until we can get it done.”
Republican negotiators were headed back to the White House to continue talks on May 24, McCarthy said.