WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden welcomed Democratic congressional leaders to the White House on Tuesday as they face a new era of divided government in Washington and staring down a debt ceiling crisis and is running up against a new confrontational Republican majority in the House of Representatives.
The President and leading Democrats used the private gathering in the Roosevelt Room to project a united front against what Biden called “extreme Republican economic plans.” Instead of entering into negotiations with House Republicans to cut spending in exchange for a debt ceiling hike, The White House has repeatedly said it wants Congress to unconditional the borrowing. Democrats said it’s up to Republicans to speak publicly about what budget cuts the majority of the new House of Representatives intend to make.
“Apparently they’re really serious about cutting Social Security, cutting Medicare,” Biden said of the GOP proposals when he sat down with Democratic leaders from the House and Senate.
At the start of the meeting, Biden said Democrats were keen to talk about the GOP extremes. He scoffed at the Republicans’ proposed 30% sales tax.
“Look, I have no intention of letting Republicans ruin our economy,” Biden added.
The upcoming showdown has a well-known precedent – A little over a decade ago, a new breed of “tea party” Republicans came to power, eager to confront the Obama administration over cuts in federal spending and stemming the nation’s mounting debt burden. As then-vice president, Biden played a central role in these negotiations, but House Republicans and the White House were never able to reach an agreement, leading to a financial crisis. Biden and his Democratic allies in Congress are in no mood to negotiate deals with a new era of hard-line Republicans led by the Freedom Caucus.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is eager to push Biden to the negotiating table in hopes of delivering on promises the GOP leader made during his campaign to become Speaker of the House to get federal spending back to FY 2022 levels, which would be a sizeable 8% budget cut.
The White House has not yet invited McCarthy to a meeting, but plans to do so soon.
“It’s very disappointing,” McCarthy told reporters at the Capitol. “Here’s the leader of the free world irresponsibly banging on a table and saying, ‘No, no, no, just raise the limit’?”
The spokesman said he is not saying “never” to increasing the nation’s debt capacity, but “we must be sensible and we must be responsible” on the budget.
McCarthy said he wanted Biden to look him in the eye “and tell me there’s not a single dollar of lavish spending in government.”
In the Senate, Republicans appear more than willing to step aside for now and let McCarthy and the House GOP take the lead in talks with Biden — and cautious about embracing the kind of federal spending cuts that the House GOP wants , but they have little chance of becoming law.
Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday, “I think it’s perfectly reasonable that the new Speaker and his team are putting spending cuts on the table.”
McConnell said of McCarthy’s unscheduled meeting with Biden: “I wish him well and speaking to the President. Therein lies a solution.”
The afternoon meeting between Biden and Democratic leaders came as the White House opened its doors for a reception of the new lawmaker later Tuesday night, though some House Republicans said they would not be attending because of the government’s coronavirus protocols, such as B. because of vaccination certificates and to be tested beforehand.
Freshman Rep. Nick LaLota, RN.Y. tweeted, “I’m foregoing a historic trip to the White House to raise awareness of these punitive policies in the hope that President Biden will reverse them” for all federal offices.
Regarding the debt, the Treasury Department told Congress last week that the nation has reached its $31 trillion borrowing capacity and must raise the limit to continue paying its already accrued bills. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has taken extraordinary measures that are routinely applied at times like these, but these will expire in June.
After the White House meeting, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, DN.Y., the new House minority leader, said, “We have a responsibility to pay the debts that Congress has already incurred. That is what the debt ceiling is about.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters the meeting with Biden underscored the contrast between Democrats and Republicans as he asked GOP lawmakers to put their budget cut plans on the table. “Republicans are in chaos,” Schumer said.
Debt has been rising for years, the last time the federal budget didn’t run red deficits was during the Clinton years. Instead, the George W. Bush administration saw the debt soar thanks to tax cuts and overseas wars. Debt grew again in the Barack Obama era, especially after the Great Recession.
Negotiations in 2011 focused on a $1-to-$1 compromise through spending cuts on new debt, but the sides never agreed on the size and scope of cuts in healthcare, the military, infrastructure and other federal accounts . So far, the Biden administration has refused to cooperate with House Republicans.
“We’ve seen this movie before,” said Senator John Cornyn of Texas, a member of the Republican leadership.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the chair of the Treasury Committee, said his party learned lessons when it negotiated the debt ceiling with Republicans in 2011.
“We know what happened. It almost threw the economy into a ditch,” Wyden said. “That’s the lesson.”
One idea debated was for Congress to set up some sort of debt committee, similar to the failed “supercommittee” that tried to find agreed ways to cut federal spending after the 2011 talks.
“The bottom line is, can we find a way forward before all the plays start?” said Sen. Joe Manchin, the conservative West Virginia Democrat known for stretching party lines. “We know we will pass. It’s just a question of how much pain you want to cause people.”
Associated Press contributors Josh Boak, Kevin Freking, and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.