Biden Looks to Revive Debt Ceiling Talks
With the nation creeping toward an unprecedented and potentially devastating default on its debt, President Joe Biden said on Sunday he would call House Speaker Kevin McCarthy directly in hopes of salvaging talks that went off the rails over the weekend.
But Biden, noting wryly that he believed there were some House Republicans who saw political advantage in a national economic meltdown, also dangled the idea of using untested constitutional authority to increase the debt ceiling on his own.
“I’m looking at the 14th Amendment,” which some senior Democrats have argued gives the president the ability, on his own, to increase the debt ceiling, Biden said at a rare solo press conference in Hiroshima, Japan, where he was meeting with members of the G7 countries.
“I think we have the authority. The question is, could it be done and invoked in time that it could not – would not – be appealed?” he added. “That’s a question, I think, that is still unresolved.”
But Biden – who has resisted calls for invoking the 14th Amendment – also laid the groundwork for such an extraordinary move, blaming Republicans for forcing his hand.
“I can’t guarantee that they wouldn’t force a default by doing something outrageous,” he said.
Raising the debt ceiling does not authorize any new spending but merely allows the government to borrow to pay bills it has already incurred. The White House has been negotiating on the matter with Congress, where Republicans are insisting on deep domestic spending cuts in exchange for approving what was once a pro-forma action.
Biden said he was willing to cut spending and raise revenues but added that Republicans were not budging. He said he would call McCarthy, the California Republican with a tenuous hold over his volatile caucus, from Air Force One on his way back to Washington.
But the president – while saying he received assurances from all congressional leaders, including McCarthy, that the country must not default – noted as he left the press conference that some of McCarthy’s rank-and-file members don’t share the same concerns about the impact of a default on the global economy.
“I think there are some MAGA Republicans in the House who know the damage it would do to the economy, and – because I am president and a president is responsible for everything – Biden would take the blame, and that’s the one way to make sure Biden’s not reelected,” the president said.
Biden’s announcement that he would call McCarthy directly signals a shift in the talks – and in the White House public strategy. The move both elevates McCarthy, who won his speakership after a lengthy, 15-ballot process, and puts pressure on him to get his caucus in line.
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With a narrow majority in the House, McCarthy needs to either get the right wing of his caucus on board or cut a deal with Democrats — both problematic approaches. Several members of what Biden calls the “MAGA wing” of the party, who got their nickname from the “Make America Great Again” slogan of former President Donald Trump, have indicated they will not accept anything less than the draconian domestic spending cuts the House. has already passed.
But if McCarthy cuts them out and works with Democrats, he risks being subject to a “no confidence” vote, something he agreed upon during negotiations for his speakership, could be called by a single member of his GOP caucus.
“My guess is he’s going to want to deal directly with me in making sure we’re all on the same page,” Biden said.
Biden has already cut short his Asia trip to address the escalating fiscal crisis. The Treasury Department and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predict that the country could run out of money to pay its bills as soon as June 1.
During the truncated visit, Biden announced the release of additional aid to Ukraine, whose president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, made a dramatic appearance at the event to plead for assistance in his country’s lengthy battle against the invading Russians.
Zelenskyy suggested to reporters that the city of Bakhmut was in Russian hands, as Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed.
“I think no. But you have to understand, there is nothing,” Zelenskyy said in response to a question about whether the Russians held the city. His spokesman later clarified on Facebook that Zelenskyy was saying “no” to the Russian claim that it had control of Bakhmut, but Zelenskyy was also visibly dispirited by what had happened to the Ukrainian city.
“For today, Bakhmut is only in our hearts, and there is nothing on this place,” the Ukrainian leader said.
Biden’s major foreign trip – which initially included a visit to Australia and a first-ever stop for a sitting US president in Papua New Guinea, was overshadowed by the debt ceiling crisis. Staffers continued to work during the president’s absence – a common tactic that often helps the teams make progress – but the talks, which appeared promising Friday morning, hit a roadblock over the weekend.
During the 38-minute news conference – his first solo press conference in months – the president complained that Republicans were not moving.
“Much of what they’ve already proposed is simply, quite frankly, unacceptable,” Biden said. “It’s time for Republicans to accept that there’s no bipartisan deal to be made solely, solely on their partisan terms. … They have to move, as well.
“Let me be clear: I’m not going to agree to a deal that protects wealthy tax cheats and crypto traders while putting food assistance at risk for nearly 1 million Americans,” Biden said, listing one of the disagreements he has with congressional Republicans. .
He said the GOP wants to cut IRS agents assigned to examine tax returns for billionaires, a move he said would reduce tax revenues because the wealthy would not undergo the same tax scrutiny.
The president has deliberately cast the talks as “budget” negotiations, so as to separate the nation’s obligation to pay bills it has already run up with the question of spending and taxation levels for the future.
“America has never defaulted, never defaulted on its debt and never will,” the president pledged.