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Biden and McCarthy set to meet again Monday for debt ceiling talks

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks with members of the press from Capitol Hill on Sunday after participating in a phone call on the debt ceiling with President Joe Biden.
Patrick Semansky
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AP
Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks with members of the press from Capitol Hill on Sunday after participating in a phone call on the debt ceiling with President Joe Biden.

Updated May 21, 2023 at 2:17 PM ET

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Biden will meet in person Monday to continue discussions over the debt limit, as the U.S. quickly approaches the date at which it may no longer be able to pay its bills.

McCarthy told reporters Sunday morning that he had a "productive phone call" with Biden, who was returning to Washington from Japan where he attended the G-7 summit, as negotiations over a bipartisan deal to raise the debt limit faltered over the last few days.

McCarthy told reporters top negotiators from his team and the president's will return to meetings on Sunday evening in advance of an in-person meeting between the speaker and president on Monday. The White House confirmed the phone call between the two leaders and the plan for Monday's meeting.

"My discussion with the president, I think, was productive," McCarthy said. "Look, he's sitting on Air Force One, he had been sitting in meetings with other world leaders, and it's hard to try to get that update as we're going across there. I think we can solve some of these problems if he understands what we're looking at, but I've been very clear to him from the very beginning — we have to spend less money than we spent last year."

McCarthy stressed the two sides remain "apart" and that "nothing is agreed to here."

In recent days, the Biden administration and House Republicans have focused their public efforts on blaming the other side for the impasse on ways to prevent an unprecedent debt default.

Speaking after the G-7 concluded, Biden repeated his accusations that Republicans were to blame for the deadlock. "It's time for the other side to move off extreme positions because much of what they've already proposed is simply, quite frankly, unacceptable" he said.

Biden said he was willing to cut spending, but said Republicans needed to consider raising tax revenues. House Republicans are largely opposed to any tax increase – a major tool Biden has relied on in his proposed budgets to lower the deficit.

Biden said he expected to speak to McCarthy on Air Force One. "My guess is he's gonna want to deal directly with me in making sure we're all on the same page," Biden said.

Earlier on Sunday, McCarthy characterized the White House as "moving backward" in talks.

"The president pivoted back," McCarthy said on Fox News Sunday Morning Futures. "He actually proposed spending billions more next year than we spend this year."

"All the discussions we had before, I felt we were at a place that we could agree together, that we would have compromise. We wouldn't get what our bill said — we would find compromise," he added. "Now the president, even though he was overseas, fought to change places. I don't understand that."

President Joe Biden answers questions on the U.S. debt limits ahead of a bilateral meeting with Australia's Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on the sidelines of the G7 Summit in Hiroshima, Japan, Saturday, May 20, 2023.
Susan Walsh / AP
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AP
President Joe Biden answers questions on the U.S. debt limits ahead of a bilateral meeting with Australia's Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on the sidelines of the G7 Summit in Hiroshima, Japan, Saturday, May 20, 2023.

Biden says questions about the 14th amendment are 'unresolved'

Asked about invoking the Constitution's 14th amendment to avoid default — an untested tool that the progressive wing of his party has urged — Biden said he was unsure whether legal challenges to such a move could be resolved in time to avert default. "That's a question that I think is unresolved," he said.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen reiterated Biden's position on the 14th amendment, telling NBC's Meet the Press: "It doesn't seem like something that could be appropriately used in these circumstances given the legal uncertainty around it and given the tight timeframe we're on, so my devout hope is that Congress will raise the debt ceiling."

Yellen has repeatedly warned lawmakers the U.S. could run out of money to pay its bills as early as June 1, which she maintains is a "hard deadline."

"If the debt ceiling isn't raised, there will be hard choices to make about what bills go unpaid," she told NBC.

Biden's top staffers are increasingly framing House Republicans as more interested in catering to the right wing of their caucus than reaching a consensus on how to lower the deficit and increase the debt ceiling.

"Last night in D.C., the Speaker's team put on the table an offer that was a big step back and contained a set of extreme partisan demands that could never pass both Houses of Congress," White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement issued early Sunday morning from Hiroshima.

According to a source familiar with negotiations, the White House's most recent offer to House Republicans included a vow to keep defense and nondefense spending in next year's budget at the same levels as the previous fiscal years. But Republicans have insisted on cuts to nondefense spending.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.
Barbara Sprunt is a producer on NPR's Washington desk, where she reports and produces breaking news and feature political content. She formerly produced the NPR Politics Podcast and got her start in radio at as an intern on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered and Tell Me More with Michel Martin. She is an alumnus of the Paul Miller Reporting Fellowship at the National Press Foundation. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania native.