WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden met privately Wednesday with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy for more than an hour, their first meeting in person since the Republican won the gavel.
There were no signs of a breakthrough between the Democratic president and the Republican president on the top item on their mutual to-do list: preventing a debt-ceiling breach and averting an economically calamitous default later this year.
“I respect the conversation that we had together,” McCarthy told reporters at the White House after the meeting, calling it a “good conversation” that yielded “no agreement, no promise, except that we will continue this conversation.”
“We had different perspectives, but we both laid out part of our vision of where we want to go,” he said. «I can see where we can find common ground.»
He declined to divulge details, saying: «The president and I are trying to find a way to work together, and we will continue to do so.» Asked if Social Security and Medicare cuts are on the table, McCarthy said: «No, we’re not talking about that.»
In the run up to the meeting, the White House demanded that McCarthy commit to avoiding default and that he come up with a Republican plan. Biden and his aides have publicly said that extending the debt ceiling is non-negotiable.
McCarthy has not specified what the Republicans want in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. «The only thing I know: our debt is too high, we have waste in our government.»
Before the meeting, White House spokesman Andrew Bates accused Republicans of «threatening an unprecedented default unless they are paid a bailout of unnamed budget cuts.»
The desire for details also extends to some in the House GOP.
In a closed meeting of the House Republican conference on Wednesday, Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas stood up and asked the McCarthy-led leadership team to be more specific about possible spending cuts, a source familiar with the news told NBC News. with the meeting.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., told reporters that McCarthy should write a bill and pass it in the House.
«Spokesman McCarthy shows up at the White House today without a plan, it’s like sitting at a table with no cards in hand,» he told reporters. “Democrats have a plan, as I mentioned: raise the debt ceiling without taking any chances or taking hostages, as has been done before.”
The White House has stressed that it is willing to negotiate on budget policy, but that those talks must be separated from the debt ceiling to avoid any possibility of default. Biden’s position comes after the Obama administration agreed to debt limit negotiations in 2011, bringing the United States to the brink of disaster. Obama, Biden and his advisers came to see it as a big mistake.
Ultimately, to avoid a crisis, the House will have to pass a bill that Biden can sign and the Democratic-controlled Senate can pass. Early stances from the White House and Republican leaders point to a potential sweet spot that satisfies each side’s red line: a bill that includes provisions the GOP can celebrate as a concession and Democrats can brush off as a blade. of vine.
Some of the president’s Democratic allies believe Biden’s hard line will soften. They hope that he ends up participating in something that looks a lot like a negotiation, whatever he wants to call it. Biden is, by temperament, a bargainer who has spent decades in politics forging deals where neither party gets everything he wants but gets something satisfying.
“There will be a wink or a nod or a handshake in areas where they can at least find some consensus,” predicted Leon Panetta, a former budget director under President Bill Clinton and later a cabinet secretary in the Obama-Biden administration.
“The whole story of Biden for 40 years is being willing to negotiate,” Panetta added. “That is why he has been able to enjoy success on Capitol Hill: the willingness to negotiate. I suspect there will be a process here to determine whether or not there is a sincere effort to really impose budget discipline.»
“There are a lot of politics and positions that have always been involved with the debt limit. In the end, everyone knows what has to happen. That is the only certainty that has always been there.”
A Democratic congressman has warned that Biden risks appearing opinionated if the White House appears to be avoiding negotiations with Congress.
“I don’t agree with the ‘No Negotiations’ position,” said the congressman, speaking on condition of anonymity to criticize the White House. “Call them ‘arguments.’ Don’t be afraid to say, ‘We’re having conversations.’”
“I understand what they are doing with this dance: ‘Let the Republicans show their cards,’” the source said. “But I don’t like the opt-out stance. I don’t think the public likes that answer.»