For The Record
U.S. House speaker calls for ‘responsible’ debt limit legislation, shares few details
U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy answers questions from reporters at the U.S. Capitol about debt limit talks at the White House, on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023. Jennifer Shutt/States Newsroom
WASHINGTON — U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Monday said the greatest threat to the nation’s future is the rising national debt, though he gave few specifics for how he planned to lower deficit spending or avoid a first-ever default on the debt this year.
The California Republican, in a 10-minute address from the U.S. Capitol the day before the president’s State of the Union address, said the summer debt limit deadline “is one of the most important opportunities Congress has to change course.” He called on lawmakers to approve a “responsible debt limit increase that puts us on a path towards a healthier economy.”
McCarthy, however, was light on the details of how exactly the Republican-controlled House would get to that goal, or how that GOP legislation would move through the Democratic Senate.
McCarthy called on Congress and the White House to take a different approach to the debt limit during this year’s talks, saying there should be no drawing lines in the sand, no policy gimmicks and no political games.
He then outlined his three requirements for negotiations.
“First, we will continue to sit down and negotiate, just as President Biden did in the past. Second, we must commit to finding common ground on a responsible debt limit increase,” McCarthy said. “Third, we must move towards a balanced budget and insist on genuine accountability for every dollar we spend.”
McCarthy added that cuts to Social Security and Medicare, a default on the debt and higher taxes were all off the table for these negotiations.
“Cuts to Medicare and Social Security, they’re off the table. Defaulting on our debt is not an option,” he said. “But neither is a future of higher taxes, higher interest rates and an economy that doesn’t work for working Americans.”
Meeting last week
McCarthy’s comments Monday were somewhat different from those he made last week after meeting with President Joe Biden for more than an hour on the debt limit and government spending.
McCarthy at the time said that meeting included “a very productive conversation.”
“Now, you know, in all these different things, if you had a productive conversation, and you both walked out saying, ‘Let’s continue it,’ that’s a positive for today,” McCarthy said last week.
The speaker also said he was very clear with Biden during the meeting that the U.S. House would not pass “a clean debt ceiling,” meaning he expects to add language addressing government spending, or something similar, to the bill.
National Economic Council Director Brian Deese said during a briefing on Monday afternoon that Biden will discuss the debt limit during his State of the Union address on Tuesday and emphasize his view that conversations about future government spending should remain separate from talks about how Congress should address the debt limit.
“The full faith and credit of the United States — this bedrock idea that the United States has met all of its financial obligations for its existence as a country — isn’t something that anybody should be using as a bargaining chip, it’s not a negotiable item. It’s Congress’ constitutional obligation.” Deese said.
The economic and national security consequences of getting close to a default on the debt, he said, would be significant.
“So you’ll hear that clearly from the president,” Deese said. “And you’ll hear an openness and in fact an eagerness to have a real, serious conversation about the fiscal and economic priorities of the country.”
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