On Saturday, President Biden brushed off loud statements made by both sides in the debt and spending talks gripping Washington, dismissing them as little more than the typical posturing of any negotiation and expressing confidence that he will still be able to strike a deal with the Republicans to raise the debt ceiling.
Speaking on the sidelines of a summit in Hiroshima, Japan, Biden told reporters he wasn’t worried about debt talks at home. « Not at all, » he said. He later added: « I still believe we will be able to avoid a default and do something decent. »
But on Sunday morning in Japan, Biden’s aides raised the alarm once again. They said Mr Biden had directed his team to schedule a call with President Kevin McCarthy on Sunday after Mr Biden’s meetings with Group of 7 leaders.
Mr Biden’s comments came after a tumultuous period of pushing and parrying across oceans. Mr McCarthy on Friday abruptly declared a « pause » in talks aimed at raising the debt ceiling to avoid a national default as he figured out ways to reduce the deficit, only to send his negotiators back to the table later in the day. But that session broke down after just an hour, and the White House then issued a scathing statement accusing Republicans of sticking to MAGA’s « extreme priorities. »
Republican leaders continued to blame White House negotiators on Saturday for what they called a deterioration in discussions. Mr. McCarthy told reporters on Capitol Hill that he did not believe negotiations could « go forward » until Mr. Biden returns to the United States.
« The White House is backing off on negotiations, » he wrote on Twitter. In a separate post, she blamed Mr. Biden for the impasse, claiming the president « didn’t think there was a single dollar of savings to be found in the federal government’s budget. »
The president basically called all that just theater that no one should take too seriously. « It’s going in stages, » he told reporters during a meeting with the Australian prime minister. « And what happens is that the first meetings weren’t all that progressive, the second ones were, the third one was, and then what happens is the carriers » – meaning the negotiators – « go back to the principals and say that this is what we are thinking about it and then people are making new claims.
Noting that he went through many of these negotiations in his half-century in Washington, he made it clear that he believed such a position was little more than for show, presumably including the statement his own staff had made just an hour earlier. Each side, she indicated, must take a firm stand to get the best deal for itself. That, she added, doesn’t mean they can’t eventually reach a consensus.
Biden’s public confidence in the prospects of a deal has sparked discontent among some liberals who fear he will give McCarthy’s Republicans too much, including job requirements for aid recipients for the indigent. As it stands, the president has essentially dropped his insistence that he would not negotiate spending constraints as part of a deal to raise the debt ceiling; the White House argues that the spending talks currently underway are theoretically separate from the issue of raising the debt ceiling, a characterization accepted by few others.
The two sides have struck a deal in talks over the past week, including recovering some unspent funds from previously approved Covid relief legislation. They also broadly agreed to some kind of cap on federal discretionary spending for at least the next two years. But they’re stuck on the details of those caps, including how much overall to spend next fiscal year on discretionary programs and how to divide that spending between military and other programs.
The latest offer from the White House would keep both military and other expenses constant — which include education, scientific research, environmental protection and more — from the current fiscal year to the next fiscal year. Republicans have proposed a nominal decline in total discretionary spending next year, but not evenly distributed; in their plan, military spending would continue to rise.
Far-right lawmakers at McCarthy’s conference, who had become increasingly vocal about their concern that the speaker would agree to a deal that would freeze spending at current levels, rather than last year’s levels, seemed to appreciate the increasingly more provocative than the GOP leader. Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, a key conservative, published with approval a Twitter article about the breakdown of the talks, writing that House Republicans were « fighting for the military, veterans, border security and fiscal responsibility. »
For days, Mr. Biden and aides traveling with him to Japan have expressed optimism that they could strike a deal before the president returns to Washington on or shortly after, in time to raise the debt ceiling before the nation did. otherwise reach a default as early as June 1st. It was unclear when the negotiators planned to meet again. The White House has essentially canceled the president’s schedule for next week, presumably to allow for more talks.
Mr. Biden’s comments to reporters on Saturday left a mixed bag of messages within hours. The White House opened the day in Japan with a briefing by Karine Jean-Pierre, press secretary, who offered a more measured assessment of the talks than the positive tone of these days, saying that an agreement will depend on whether Mr. McCarthy » will negotiate in good faith” and that everyone should recognize that “you don’t get everything you want”.
He stressed that « we need Republicans and Democrats, » alluding to concerns that Democrats in Congress might walk away from any deal if they perceive the president has gone too far. But he denied that the White House was more pessimistic, using the word « optimistic » 14 times during his briefing.
Three hours later, after Biden spoke with his negotiators in Washington, his communications director, Ben LaBolt, issued a very different statement that he never used the word « optimistic. »
“Republicans are taking the economy hostage and pushing us to the brink of default, which could cost millions of jobs and plunge the country into a recession after two years of stable jobs and wage growth,” LaBolt said.
« Republicans, » he added, « are laundering a barely watered-down version of their extreme budget proposal » that would result in spending cuts on education, law enforcement and health care, while canceling plans to hire more officers of the IRS to target tax evaders and extending tax breaks passed under President Donald J. Trump. He added that any deal should include tax hikes on the wealthy and corporations, not just spending cuts.
« There remains a path forward to arrive at a reasonable bipartisan agreement if Republicans return to the table to negotiate in good faith, » LaBolt said. “But President Biden will not accept a wish list of extreme MAGA priorities that would punish middle class and neediest Americans and retard our economic progress.”
The federal government reached its $31.4 trillion debt limit set by law months ago. The Treasury Department has employed a series of accounting maneuvers to avoid breaching it, but said it could run out of options as early as June 1, which would throw the nation into default for the first time since it has failed to meet its obligations unless that Congress and the president came to an agreement.
Catie Edmondson contributed reporting from Washington and Jim Tankersley from Hiroshima, Japan.