Tensions have only risen in Congress since the U.S. hit the debt ceiling last week, kickstarting a number of “extraordinary measures” from the Treasury Department to pay the government’s bills until early summer. But as economists warn of the catastrophic damage that could be brought about by even approaching a default, a consensus among lawmakers and the White House still appears sorely out of reach.
As House Republicans have threatened to withhold a debt ceiling increase without sharp spending cuts, the White House has remained adamant that it will not negotiate on the issue, while both sides have painted the other as “extreme” for their positions.
“All I’m asking is for a responsible debt limit increase,” McCarthy, who is expected to meet with President Joe Biden on a range of issues in the near future, wrote in a tweet on Wednesday. “That means the president and I should find common ground and eliminate where the government is wasting money.”
Talks of leveraging programs like Social Security and Medicare – pitched by some on the fringes of the GOP in recent months – have notably seemed to cool in recent days. And McCarthy himself reportedly ruled out the cuts, according to Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who told reporters on Wednesday the California Republican agreed not to propose cuts to the programs.
But without gutting the entitlement programs, it remains unclear where Republicans would like to cut back on spending.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York has for days called for House Republicans to share their plans and point to the spending they wish to cut. On Wednesday, he reiterated those calls, saying that McCarthy’s conference is “hiding from the American people.”
“The House GOP is threatening spending cuts. Well, what are they?” Schumer asked in a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday. “House Republicans, where are your cards?”
Meanwhile, Schumer’s counterpart in the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has pushed responsibility for the debt limit standoff onto House Republicans, who he said must take the lead on negotiations.
“I can’t imagine any debt ceiling agreement that would get 60 votes in the Senate that would have any chance of passing the House,” McConnell said at a news conference on Tuesday. “So the solution to this problem needs to be negotiated between the speaker and the president.”
But that didn’t stop a group of Republican senators from weighing in on the issue on Wednesday.
“The debt ceiling is coming up, and the debt ceiling historically has proven the most effective lever point to force meaningful concessions,” Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said at a news conference focused on the debt limit, adding that “I believe it is incumbent on that Republican majority – and on Republicans in the Senate – to use every lever point we have to stop the out-of-control spending that is driving inflation, that is punishing hard-working Americans in this country.”
Cruz and a handful of his GOP colleagues made clear that they will not let the U.S. default on its debt but argued that the president is being “objectively unreasonable” by refusing to negotiate with McCarthy.
“There is one principal person in this town that is talking about a default on the debt – and that is Joe Biden,” he said.
Sen. Rand Paul warned that Biden “absolutely will negotiate” and advocated for a $100 billion spending cut, which he said would balance the national budget in a number of years.
“It could be done, but it would take compromise between both parties,” the Kentucky Republican said. “Republicans would have to give up the sacred cow that says ‘we will never touch a dollar in the military,’ and the Democrats will have to get up the sacred cow that they will never touch a dollar in welfare.”
But more specifically, Republicans have largely put the onus on Democrats and the White House to determine where those cuts can be made.
“If Washington is spending too much money, is there not some money that President Biden can identify that’s wasteful in Washington?” House Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana asked on Wednesday.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Wednesday that the president has been clear that he’s happy to hear ideas about how to deal with the national debt.
“When it comes to default, we see this is a separate matter,” she added. “We see this very differently, and it should be done without conditions.”