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Biden, congressional leaders likely to meet Tuesday for talks on raising the debt limit

Biden speaks into a microphone while on a bike
President Biden speaks to reporters as he goes on a bike ride in Rehoboth Beach, Del., on Sunday.
(Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)
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President Biden and congressional leaders will probably resume talks on Tuesday at the White House over the debt limit, the president said Sunday, as the nation continues to edge closer to its legal borrowing authority with no agreement in sight.

The meeting was initially supposed to be Friday, but was abruptly postponed so staff-level talks could continue before Biden and the four congressional leaders huddled for a second time. Administration and congressional officials said Sunday that a meeting has not been finalized.

Biden said he was optimistic he could reach a deal with the Republicans.

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“I remain optimistic because I’m a congenital optimist,” Biden told reporters while out for a bike ride in Rehoboth Beach, Del. “But I really think there’s a desire on their part as well as ours to reach an agreement. I think we’ll be able to do it.”

Aides reported some progress in the discussions that carried through the weekend.

“The staff is very engaged. I would characterize the engagement as serious, as constructive,” Lael Brainard, head of the White House’s National Economic Council, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Buffalo, N.Y., pauses to mark one year since a white supremacist gunman killed 10 Black people and wounded three at a supermarket.

May 14, 2023

But there was little indication that either the White House or House Republicans had budged from their initial positions. Biden has called on lawmakers to lift the debt limit without preconditions, warning that the nation’s borrowing authority should not be used to impose deep spending cuts and other conservative policy demands.

“We’ve not reached the crunch point yet,” Biden told reporters Saturday before flying to his beach home for the weekend. “There’s real discussion about some changes we all could make. We’re not there yet.”

Breaching the debt limit would be unprecedented and could trigger a financial catastrophe.

“Our expectation is that Congress will act to avert default in a timely manner,” Brainard said.

Biden and the leaders — House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky — ended their first meeting last Tuesday without a breakthrough.

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The president described that Oval Office session as “productive” even though McCarthy said later he “didn’t see any new movement” toward resolving the stalemate.

McCarthy has insisted on using the threat of defaulting on the nation’s debts to wrangle budget changes, arguing that the federal government can’t continue to spend money at the pace it is now. The national debt now stands at $31.4 trillion.

An increase in the debt limit would not authorize new federal spending. It would allow only for borrowing to pay for what Congress has already approved.

The Treasury Department has said the government could exhaust the ability to pay its bills as early as June 1. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office gave a similar warning Friday, saying there was a “significant risk” of default sometime in the first two weeks of next month.

But federal estimates still remain in flux.

The CBO noted Friday that if the cash flow at the Treasury and the “extraordinary measures” that the department is now using can continue to pay for bills through June 15, the government can probably finance its operations through the end of July. That’s because the expected tax revenues that will come in mid-June and other measures will give the federal government enough cash for at least a few more weeks.

“Ultimately the stakes are, the United States has never defaulted on its debt,” Wally Adeyemo, the deputy treasury secretary, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “And we can’t.”

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And Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) told ABC’s “This Week”: “I think defaulting is not the right path to go down. So I am an eternal optimist.’’

He added, “this is always a game we play, every Congress, you know, in daring each other to jump off the cliff. It’s a dangerous game.”

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