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McCarthy uses CBO briefing to prod Biden on debt limit talks

The Hill logo The Hill 3/9/2023 Emily Brooks
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Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) took aim at President Biden as he emerged from a bipartisan members briefing by the director of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), prodding the president to arrange another meeting to negotiate on raising the debt limit.

“When the president delays our opportunity to negotiate together to help solve this problem, it only harms our economy more,” McCarthy said on Wednesday.

The prepared presentation by CBO Director Phillip Swagel warned that revenues under current law will not keep pace with spending, and that major trust funds, including Social Security and Medicare, will be exhausted within 10 years.

“The longer action is delayed, the larger the policy changes would need to be,” it said.

Biden and McCarthy have had one White House meeting, on Feb. 1, which the Speaker left projecting optimism about negotiating spending cuts as a condition of raising the debt ceiling. But negotiations have since stalled, with the White House saying that Republicans should first release their proposed budget.

McCarthy said Biden has not reached back out since that February meeting.

“I believe eventually he will, but that’s a month wasted,” McCarthy said. “That’s a month that brings more doubt financially. That’s a month that hurts Americans. The sooner we get together, the better off all America will be.”

The briefing was a move by McCarthy to put focus on spending and the debt. Congress will have to vote to raise the debt ceiling by an expected summer deadline — an exact date for when the Treasury’s “extraordinary measures” will be exhausted is uncertain — in order to avoid severe economic consequences.

McCarthy and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) both thanked House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) for bringing Democrats and Republicans together for the briefing.

“We can agree to disagree on our vision and our plans and our strategies to bend the curve, to put us on a sustainable path, and to save the country from a debt crisis. But what we can’t do is disagree on the math,” House Budget Committee Chairman Jodey Arrington (R-Texas) said. “So this isn’t today wasn’t about Republican or Democrat. It’s about the mathematic reality that our country faces.”

Democrats, though, saw the timing as strategic. Biden is set to release his budget on Thursday, which is expected to include tax hikes on wealthy individuals and corporations that he estimates could reduce the deficit by $2 trillion over a decade.

“He wants us to look at the budget with this in mind. We can go, ‘Oh, no, no, no, no, no. We can’t spend any more. We’re already in the red,’” Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) said. “And it’s like, that’s not really how our budget works.”

And rather than influencing Democrats away from Biden’s positions on the budget, House Minority Whip Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) said the event “sets the groundwork for the president’s budget.”

“He’s trying to make our tax code work for everyday Americans and protect Medicare into the future,” Clark said.

The findings lawmakers were briefed on during the presentation also included projections showing the federal debt held by the public was on track to reach a record high in 2033, climbing to 118 percent of GDP before reaching 195 percent in 2053, according to presentation slides released by the CBO.

Republicans leaving the presentation sought to pin blame on spending greenlit under the Biden administration, and put pressure on the White house to come to the table in spending talks. 

“Speaker McCarthy has laid out many times that he wants to have more conversations with President Biden to figure out how to get control over this problem,” Scalise said. 

Jeffries, like the White House, indicated that the ball is in Republicans’ court and said that he hopes the House GOP releases a budget soon.

“We need to operate from a common set of facts in order to tackle the challenges that are in front of us. President Biden is going to release his budget tomorrow. It will be in the public domain, setting forth the Democratic vision for building a strong economy for everyday Americans,” Jeffries said. 

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