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As debt ceiling talks progress, Biden and lawmakers are postponing their meeting

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-K.Y., and Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., leave after meeting with President Biden at the White House on Tuesday. They are canceling a planned meeting for Friday as staffers make progress on debt ceiling talks.
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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-K.Y., and Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., leave after meeting with President Biden at the White House on Tuesday. They are canceling a planned meeting for Friday as staffers make progress on debt ceiling talks.

Updated May 11, 2023 at 6:52 PM ET

President Biden will not meet with congressional leaders Friday to discuss the debt ceiling as planned, according to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's office.

Biden was set to meet McCarthy, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer at the White House to continue talks on lifting the nation's debt limit, which expires as soon as early June. A meeting on Tuesday ended with no resolution.

McCarthy's office said Friday that he, Biden and the other leaders agreed that their staffs should continue to meet.

A source familiar with the meetings told NPR that Biden and the congressional leaders postponed their gathering because did not want interrupt the progress that was being made.

"This is a positive development. Meetings are progressing. Staff is continuing to meet and it wasn't the right moment to bring it back to principals," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe private meetings.

McCarthy told reporters he expected another meeting with the president and congressional leaders next week.

"The staff has met for the last two days, we think it's productive for the staff to meet again," McCarthy said.

Louisiana GOP Rep. Mike Johnson, a member of McCarthy's leadership team, told NPR "we're cautiously optimistic" about the state of play. On the staff talks continuing, Johnson said "those are necessary sequential steps in making it all happen and everybody knows that so the fact that the staffs are still meeting and negotiating is really important."

What could be on the table for spending cuts

Rep. Garret Graves, who shepherded the House GOP debt ceiling bill that passed last month, told reporters earlier Thursday that negotiators could potentially find common ground around these four areas:

  • a provision to speed permitting of energy projects
  • adding stricter work requirements for recipients of safety net programs like food stamps
  • clawing back unspent COVID-19 relief funds
  • setting spending caps for federal programs for some length of time
  • One senior Democratic aide told NPR that pulling back COVID funds that haven't been spent is something the president has said he is open to including in a deal.

    Democrats have agreed to cap spending as part of previous bipartisan deals to increase the debt limit, but in the discussions now they are pressing Republicans to discuss tax increases as part of any framework.

    "If the White House is looking for revenue, they are looking in the wrong direction," Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., told reporters.

    Graves said he has talked to senior Biden administration officials like climate envoy John Kerry, who agree about the need for permitting reforms. He said there is a group of House and Senate Democrats — including West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin — who support changes to the current system. Graves called the proposal in the GOP bill a "good doable start."

    As the clock ticks down toward the early June deadline that Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has set for when the government runs out money to pay its bills, some are floating the idea of a short-term extension of the debt limit.

    McCarthy has opposed that repeatedly, and Johnson told reporters it is "absolutely off the table." But he agreed with Yellen's timeline for acting and said "default would be terrible for our country."

    NPR reporter Barbara Sprunt contributed to this report.

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

    Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.
    Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.