White House postpones Friday debt ceiling meeting amid staff talks
The White House has postponed a meeting on debt ceiling negotiations between President Biden and congressional leaders that was scheduled for Friday to allow staff-level talks to continue.
“Staff will continue working and all the principals agreed to meet early next week,” a White House official said. A House GOP source also confirmed the postponement but gave no further details.
The White House viewed the delay as a positive development, the White House source said, adding that staff meetings were going well and it was not yet time for the principal leaders to come back together.
The decision came as Biden was set to host Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and other top lawmakers for the second time this week to discuss a path forward on lifting the debt ceiling and avoiding a default. Biden had hosted congressional leaders Tuesday, which also included Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
McCarthy emerged from Tuesday’s meeting saying there was no tangible progress and that all sides simply restated their positions. But the leaders had agreed to reconvene Friday while staff-level discussions took place in the interim.
Gene Sperling, a senior White House adviser, said Wednesday that those talks had been going well initially.
“It was a conversation that, for at this stage of the discussion, was productive,” Sperling said. “I think there was a good feeling in the room, or at least a sense of productivity.”
The Treasury Department has warned the U.S. could breach the debt ceiling by early June, giving lawmakers a truncated time frame to reach a deal to raise the debt limit and avoid a default. Experts and government officials have warned that a default could carry catastrophic consequences for the economy, including job losses, increased borrowing rates and a stock market decline.
The White House has for months maintained its position that Congress has an obligation to raise the debt ceiling without conditions and that any discussions about government spending should be handled separately from a vote to avoid default.
House Republicans, meanwhile, have passed legislation that would raise the debt ceiling and cap government funding at fiscal 2022 levels in an effort to curb spending and roll back several Biden administration actions.
Biden signaled Tuesday he could be open to looking at unspent COVID-19 relief funds as part of spending negotiations.
The president had signaled following Tuesday’s meeting that allowing discussions to continue at the staff level could ultimately lead to more productive talks among congressional leaders.
“One of the ways in which senators or congresspersons are able to back off some of the things they've done is if they're — give their staff some leeway, and the staff has then said, ‘Well, we're going to do this,’” Biden said. “It kicks the can down the road a little bit.”
Updated 4:46 p.m.
Emily Brooks contributed.