Debt ceiling deal may be close, McCarthy says — but will the rest of Congress buy it?

Biden and McCarthy may cut a deal before the weekend — but many Republicans and Democrats are likely to oppose it

By Tatyana Tandanpolie

Staff Writer

Published May 26, 2023 4:23PM (EDT)

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is seen in the U.S. Capitol before a news conference on the House passed the "Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act," on Thursday, April 20, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is seen in the U.S. Capitol before a news conference on the House passed the "Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act," on Thursday, April 20, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

House negotiators and the White House have made progress toward an agreement to raise the country's debt ceiling as the deadline to reach a compromise draws nearer, Speaker Kevin McCarthy told reporters outside the Capitol Friday.

But, McCarthy added, there remains more work to do to strike a deal before the nation defaults on its debt.

"I thought we made progress last night, we've got to make more progress now," he said. "Now we've got a short timeframe."

President Biden and the Republican speaker are racing to reach an agreement to raise the $31 trillion debt ceiling before the Memorial Day weekend, and appear to be close to reconciling their differences on a two-year compromise that would reduce federal spending and raise the borrowing limit, The Associated Press reports. The deadline facing them could be as soon as Thursday, June 1, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen's projected date when the Treasury could run out of money to pay the country's bills.

The obvious difficulty here is that any deal struck between Biden and McCarthy would require the political support of both Democrats and Republicans in order to pass, with some far-right Republicans certain to oppose a deal and at least a few progressive Democrats likely to join them. The two sides are stuck on whether to meet GOP demands to implement stiffer work requirements on some of the most vulnerable Americans — those who receive food stamps, monetary assistance and health care from the government, a source with knowledge of the talks said.

McCarthy and Biden, however, seemed optimistic about the negotiations going into the holiday weekend.

"The only way to move forward is with a bipartisan agreement," Biden said in Thursday remarks at the White House. "And I believe we'll come to an agreement that allows us to move forward and protects the hardworking Americans of this country."

Since Republicans called Congress into recess early on Friday, lawmakers are not expected to return to work before Tuesday, meaning that a vote to pass the compromise, which McCarthy promised to post 72 hours beforehand, in line with currentHouse rules, could come dangerously close to the possible deadline. The Democrat-led Senate has vowed to move quickly to send the bill to Biden's desk.

News of continued progress comes amid widespread discord between Democrats and Republicans on Thursday and Friday, with each party accusing each other of prolonging the negotiations to the detriment of Americans.

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On Thursday a group of 34 Republican representatives affiliated with the House Freedom Caucus posted on Twitter a letter to McCarthy urging him to add additional provisions to the "Limit, Save, Grow" Act they passed — such as a bill addressing border crossings and removing funding for new FBI headquarters —  and to demand Yellen provide evidence justifying the June 1 deadline. The GOP members also encouraged McCarthy to combine and pass two other provisions "clawing back unspent COVID funds and repealing Democrats' funding for 87,000 new IRS agents" as a standalone measure.

"House Republicans have done our duty in passing the Limit, Save, Grow Act and you were repeatedly rebuffed in your attempts to bring President Biden to the negotiating table," the letter read. "Despite claiming he would be 'blameless,' President Biden is entirely responsible for any breach in the debt ceiling, period."

The letter concluded with what could be a veiled threat, telling McCarthy that the best hope for "transformative change in Washington comes from a unified House Republican Conference. You have that. We are behind you. Use our unity to make history."

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, one of the letters' signatories, attacked the entire debt-ceiling negotiation process on Thursday, calling on fellow lawmakers to employ their "power of the purse" to control government spending.

"When it comes down to game time, are we going to use the power of the purse to defend the American people against the onslaught of the tyranny of the executive branch?" Roy said. "Or are we going to tuck tail, take the first exit ramp off and walk away? #HoldTheLine."

"Joe Biden refused to negotiate with Speaker McCarthy on the debt ceiling for months," Freedom Caucus member Rep. Ben Cline, R-Va., tweeted Friday. "House Republicans did our job. We passed a bill to responsibly raise the debt ceiling & cap future spending. This is the Democrats' Debt Crisis."

Some Democrats also weighed in online Friday, accusing Republicans of holding Americans and the nation's economy hostage

"Republicans are responsible for: $10,000,000,000,000 in tax cuts for the wealthy $8,000,000,000,000 endless wars," Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., tweeted. "And now they are holding the American people hostage to take away healthcare, food and veterans benefits??"

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, echoed those sentiments in a Friday tweet, linking to NBC News coverage of the debt ceiling negotiations.

"The GOP is taking our economy hostage over the debt ceiling because they say they want to cut the deficit, but they're rejecting every single deficit-reduction proposal we make. It's simple: this is a crisis manufactured by Republicans," she said.

"Republicans are threatening a default on our debt — just so they can rip away healthcare & life-saving assistance for vulnerable people," added Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass. "Their cruelty, callousness, and contempt is the point. We need a clean debt ceiling increase now."

By Tatyana Tandanpolie

Tatyana Tandanpolie is a staff writer at Salon. Born and raised in central Ohio, she moved to New York City in 2018 to pursue degrees in Journalism and Africana Studies at New York University. She is currently based in her home state and has previously written for local Columbus publications, including Columbus Monthly, CityScene Magazine and The Columbus Dispatch.

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Brief Debt Ceiling Joe Biden Kevin Mccarthy News Republicans