President Biden and Houser Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California met May 16 where they were expected to discuss new work requirements for social benefits programs as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen reiterated her warning that the U.S. could hits its debt limit by June 1.
McCarthy said prior to the meeting that a debt limit agreement needs to include changes to work requirements for two key programs that provide food and cash aid to low-income households, calling the issue a personal “red line.” He reiterated that House Republicans would only agree to a deal that that reduces federal spending.
The Speaker told Republican House members in a closed-door meeting earlier that debt talks could be hitting a rocky period and that they needed to stick together. He added that the White House won’t get a “clean debt bill,” according to an attendee.
Biden signaled on May 14 that he may be open to concessions on work requirements in order to reach a spending deal. The President, however, has said that cuts to federal aid that could throw Americans into poverty are off the table. “I remain optimistic because I’m a congenital optimist, but I really think there’s a desire on their part as well as ours to reach agreement,” Biden said. “I think we’ll be able to do it.”
Senator Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana, upon hearing of new work requirements for federal aid, expressed his frustration with the negotiations. “I think it would be great to negotiate on all this stuff without a gun held at our head,” he said. “I don’t think you do good negotiations when you’re threatening to put the entire economy into depression.”
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer of New York said Democrats are holding “separate but simultaneous” discussions about raising the debt ceiling and clinching a budget deal. “Democrats welcome the debate about this year’s budget,” he said.
Discussions among staff members on both sides so far have revolved around spending caps, new work requirements for some benefit programs for low-income Americans and changes to energy permitting in exchange for votes to lift the limit, according to people briefed on the talks. Tax cuts have not been discussed.
Congress has 10 scheduled legislative days left before the end of the month and Congressional leaders believe it will take up to ten days to move any bipartisan agreement through both chambers. Senator John Thune, the chamber’s second-highest ranking Republican, told reporters that a short-term extension to buy them more time was “not an option.”
The White House meeting was expected to include McCarthy, Biden, Schumer, top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and top House Democrat Hakeem Jeffries of New York.
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