Expectations that Congressional leaders and President Joe Biden might strike a deal on Tuesday to raise the nation’s debt limit are low.
Just how low are they? One top leadership aide told POLITICO that not only do they not expect much tangible movement today on closing the negotiating gap between Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), but they’re hoping the meeting won’t “devolve” into raised voices in the Oval Office.
Positions are so entrenched at this point, with Democrats insisting that only a clean debt ceiling increase will do and Republicans conditioning an increase on spending cuts, that the two parties will arrive at the White House for Tuesday afternoon’s meeting with almost entirely different premises. And the clock is ticking: The Bipartisan Policy Center, a think tank that specializes in projecting the X-date at which the federal government will no longer be able to pay its bills without further borrowing, said Tuesday that the U.S. could default, in a worst case scenario, as soon as early June.
Here’s how the four corners of Capitol Hill leadership, plus the president, will come into today’s White House meeting and what they’ll look to get out of it:
President Joe Biden
Biden is looking for Republicans to acquiesce to his demand that they raise the nation’s debt limit without conditions — a point that the White House has publicly and privately insisted the GOP will cave on.
“He’s going to make it clear to Speaker McCarthy what’s at stake,” White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said. “The President is willing to have that conversation” about spending, but “they have to pass a clean debt ceiling.”
The White House remains confident it’s winning the political battle over the debt ceiling, especially as Biden balances his demands on the debt limit with openness to a compromise on the federal budget later this year. And there’s little expectation that Biden or McCarthy will present a specific budget proposal during the meeting, or even that they’ll emerge with anything more than an agreement to keep talking.
The Biden administration has already suggested that the talks won’t lead to any substantial movement. The president has already scheduled a trip to New York’s Hudson Valley on Wednesday to discuss why Congress should raise the debt limit.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy
While all four corners of congressional leadership will meet Tuesday to discuss the debt limit, it’s McCarthy who will be the key negotiator from Capitol Hill. The speaker heads to the White House satisfied that House Republicans have already done their part, passing a package of spending cuts coupled with a one-year debt ceiling increase. Many of his House GOP colleagues framed the bill as a negotiating position for these talks.
There was broad expectation at the time of passage that the bill would be winnowed, through negotiations with the White House, to something that could win Democratic votes in the Senate and the president’s signature.
But with a narrow majority and mounting frustration that Biden did not agree to sit down earlier, McCarthy could try to stick closer to his House-passed proposal, which he clocked as a victory in uniting his conference. Some on the right flank of the House GOP, including Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), will view McCarthy compromising or departing from their bill at all as failure to execute on his promise to rein in federal spending. Norman told POLITICO last month that McCarthy made promises to keep intact all of the red meat spending provisions that the House already approved.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the other Republican at Tuesday’s table, has long insisted that he will not be the one to hammer out any deal, nor will he back any deal cooked up on the Senate side in a bipartisan “gang” by self-appointed negotiators. Legislation that could get 60 votes in the Senate can’t necessarily pass the House, where hard-line corners of McCarthy’s conference don’t want him to budge from what they’ve already passed while others only signed onto that bill with confidence that parts they didn’t like would be negotiated out.
McConnell is letting McCarthy lead, knowing that the speaker needs to strike an agreement that he can take back to his fractious, four-seat-majority conference. There’s no way around the House here, a senior Senate GOP aide told Huddle on Monday evening.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) heads into the meeting in alignment with Biden and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), intent on separating discussions on spending from a path forward to raise the debt limit. The Democratic mantra has been “take the threat of default off the table” to pave the way for talks about federal spending.
Beyond that Democratic negotiating position, Schumer holds another card: the House-passed bill that marries significant spending cuts with a debt limit increase wouldn’t survive the Democratically controlled Senate and would likely lose some Senate GOP votes, too. The Senate majority leader, along with everyone else in the room, will be looking for McCarthy to articulate some sort of flexibility to move towards something that could potentially pass both chambers, a senior Senate Democratic aide told Huddle.
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries
Jeffries arrives at the White House with a still-developing relationship with Biden. For years, former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) led the relationship between House Democrats and the White House, but Jeffries, who does not have the former speaker’s long history of deal making, is still building his rapport and trust with the president.
The minority leader described himself this weekend as being in “lockstep” with the president on the debt ceiling, but is expected to evaluate what role he needs to play in the meeting and ensuing negotiations based on where Biden and McCarthy take the conversation. Jeffries will be expected to deliver the Democratic votes needed in the House to move any kind of compromise that emerges in the coming weeks.
Daniella Diaz and Jennifer Haberkorn contributed to this report.