President Joe Biden and congressional leaders are likely to resume talks Tuesday at the White House on the debt limit, the president said Sunday, as the nation continues to move closer to its legal authority to borrow without a deal. in sight.
The meeting was initially supposed to be on Friday, but it was abruptly postponed so that staff-level talks could continue before Biden and the four congressional leaders met for a second time. Administration and congressional officials said Sunday that a meeting has not been finalized.
Biden said he was optimistic that he could reach an agreement with the Republicans.
“I remain an optimist because I am a born optimist,” Biden told reporters while riding his bike in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. “But I really think there is a desire on their part, as well as ours, to come to an agreement. I think we can do it.”
The attendees reported some progress in the discussions that took place over the weekend.
“The staff is very committed. I would rate the engagement as serious, constructive,” Lael Brainard, director of the White House National Economic Council, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
But there was little sign that the White House or House Republicans had moved from their initial positions. Biden has called on lawmakers to remove the debt limit with no strings attached, warning that the nation’s borrowing authority should not be used to impose deep spending cuts and other conservative political demands.
“We’re not at the tipping point yet,” Biden told reporters on Saturday before flying to his beach house for the weekend. “There is a real discussion about some changes that we could all make. We are not there yet.”
Going over the debt limit would be unprecedented and could trigger a financial catastrophe.
“Our expectation is that Congress will act to prevent payment defaults in a timely manner,” Brainard said.
Biden and the leaders — House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California, House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky — ended their first meeting last Tuesday with no progress.
The president described that Oval Office session as “productive,” though McCarthy later said he “didn’t see any new movement” to resolve the impasse.
McCarthy has insisted on using the threat of default on the nation’s debts to dispute budget changes, arguing that the federal government cannot continue to spend money at its current rate. The national debt now stands at $31.4 trillion.
An increase in the debt limit would not authorize new federal spending. It would only allow borrowing to pay for what Congress has already approved.
The Treasury Department has said that the government could exhaust the ability to pay its bills as of June 1. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office issued a similar warning Friday, saying there was a “significant risk” of default sometime in the first two weeks of next month.
But federal estimates keep changing.
The CBO said Friday that if the cash flow at the Treasury and the “extraordinary measures” the department is now using can continue to pay the bills through June 15, the government will likely be able to fund its operations through the end of July. That’s because expected tax revenue due to arrive in mid-June and other measures will give the federal government enough cash to last at least a few more weeks.
“Ultimately, what’s at stake is that the United States has never defaulted on its debt,” Wally Adeyemo, assistant secretary of the Treasury, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “And we can’t.”
And Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, told ABC’s “This Week”: “I think default is not the right way to go. So I’m a perennial optimist.”
He added: “This is always a game we play, every Congress, you know, challenging each other to jump off the cliff. It’s a dangerous game.”