President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference in Hiroshima, Japan, Sunday, May 21, 2023, following the G-7 Summit.
Susan Walsh | AP Photo
President Joe Biden said Sunday that Republicans in the U.S. House must move off their “extreme positions” on the now-stalled talks over raising America’s debt limit and that there would be no agreement to avert a catastrophic default only on their terms.
“It’s time for Republicans to accept that there is no bipartisan deal to be made solely, solely, on their partisan terms,” Biden said in Hiroshima, Japan, where he attended the Group of Seven summit.
Biden said he had done his part in trying to raise the debt ceiling so the U.S. government can keep paying its bills, agreeing to cut spending. “Now it’s time for the other side to move from their extreme position,” he said.
Biden and U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., were expected to talk later Sunday, likely as Biden flew home on Air Force One after cutting short his trip in light of the strained negotiations.
“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 of McCarthy, adding that he believed a compromise remained within reach. “I’m hoping that Speaker McCarthy is just waiting to negotiate with me when I get home. … I’m waiting to find out.”
GOP lawmakers are holding tight to demands for sharp spending cuts, rejecting the alternatives proposed by the White House for reducing deficits.
Republicans want work requirements on the Medicaid health-care program, though the Biden administration has countered that millions of people could lose coverage. The GOP also introduced new cuts to food aid by restricting states’ ability to waive work requirements in places with high joblessness. That idea, when floated under President Donald Trump, was estimated to cause 700,000 people to lose their food benefits.
GOP lawmakers are also seeking cuts to IRS funding and asking the White House to accept provisions from their proposed immigration overhaul.
The White House has countered by keeping defense and nondefense spending flat next year, which would save $90 billion in the 2024 budget year and $1 trillion over 10 years.
“I think that we can reach an agreement,” Biden said.
Still, he said: “I can’t guarantee that they wouldn’t force a default by doing something outrageous.”
Republicans had also rejected White House proposals to raise revenues in order to further lower deficits. Among the proposals the GOP objects to are policies that would enable Medicare to pay less for prescription drugs and the closing of a dozen tax loopholes. Republicans have refused to roll back the Trump-era tax breaks on corporations and wealthy households as Biden’s own budget has proposed.
The decision to set up a call with McCarthy came after another start-stop day with no outward signs of progress. Food was brought to the negotiating room at the Capitol on Saturday morning, only to be carted away hours later, and no meeting was expected. Talks, though, could resume on Sunday after the two leaders’ conversation.
McCarthy tweeted that it was the White House that was “moving backward in negotiations.”
He said “the socialist wing” of the Democratic party appears to be in control, “especially with President Biden out of the country.”
Republican Rep. Dusty Johnson, who has worked closely with McCarthy to shape the GOP proposal told The Associated Press late Saturday that there were no meetings scheduled Sunday. Republicans are trying to grab the president’s attention rather than negotiators.
“If the president doesn’t re-engage, I don’t know the staff conversations can bear fruit,” Johnson said.
Biden, attending the meeting of the world’s most powerful democracies, tried to reassure them that the United States would not default, a scenario that would rattle the world economy. He said he felt there was headway in the talks.
For months, Biden had refused to engage in talks over the debt limit, insisting that Congress was trying to use the borrowing limit vote as leverage to extract other policy priorities.
But with the U.S. Treasury Department saying that it could run out of cash as soon as June 1 and Republicans putting their own legislation on the table, the White House launched talks on a budget deal that could accompany an increase in the debt limit.