Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Tuesday shot down the idea of utilizing a short-term debt ceiling hike to prevent a government default.
Just hours before McCarthy is scheduled to meet with President Biden on the issue, the Speaker said the sides should come together to negotiate a compromise — combining a debt ceiling increase with sharp spending cuts — rather than punt the debate to a later day.
“We shouldn’t kick the vote,” McCarthy told reporters in the Capitol.
The sentiment is shared by the White House and other congressional leaders in both parties, all of whom are scrambling to secure a bipartisan compromise that will prevent the first default in the country’s history — though whether a path to such a deal exists remains unclear.
The debt limit debate has gained urgency over the last week after Treasury Department Secretary Janet Yellen warned the department could exhaust its ability to pay all the country’s obligations as early as June 1.
Yellen’s announcement prompted Biden to call Tuesday’s 4 p.m. meeting at the White House, which will also feature Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.).
Heading into the gathering, however, the sides are no closer to a deal than they were in the first week of February, when Biden and McCarthy last met face-to-face.
Republicans are insisting that any increase in the Treasury Department’s borrowing cap must be accompanied by steep cuts designed to curb deficit spending — the phenomenon that has, over decades, ballooned the national debt to more than $31 trillion. House Republicans last month had passed a debt ceiling hike that included cuts to federal programs estimated to reduce deficit spending by roughly $4.8 trillion over a decade.
Biden, however, has rejected the idea of marrying the two issues. The president has argued that because lifting the debt ceiling simply empowers the government to pay debts approved by Congress in the past, the cap should be lifted as a “clean” standalone bill, and the parties can haggle over deficit reduction strategies as part of separate negotiations on federal funding, which must be extended by Sept. 30 to prevent a partial government shutdown.
The impasse has raised the odds that party leaders will need to seek a temporary suspension of the debt ceiling to prevent a default and allow the sides more time to negotiate. Some have suggested that a logical extension would be through the end of the fiscal year, thereby aligning the default and shutdown deadlines and allowing discussions of both to happen simultaneously.
McCarthy, though, is throwing cold water on the idea, saying Congress doesn’t need more time, it just needs to come together on a deal.
“Why kick the can down the road?” he said. “Let’s solve it now.”