President Joe Biden spoke with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Sunday and agreed they would meet on Monday afternoon to try to break the stalemate over legislation to raise the national debt limit.
A call took place, according to a White House readout, which gave no indication to the tone of the discussion. Mr McCarthy characterised the call as “productive” in a comment to reporters.
A day earlier, the Speaker said negotiations had taken a step backward following Mr Biden’s remarks that he believed the 14th Amendment could be used to circumvent Congress on the issue.
“I don’t think we’re going to be able to move forward until the president can get back into the country,” Mr McCarthy said on Saturday. “Just from the last day to today they’ve moved backwards. They actually want to spend more money than we spend this year.”
Mr Biden’s call with Mr McCarthy took place while the president was on Air Force One bound for the US on Sunday. He had cut short his attendance at the G7 summit in Japan in order to lead negotiations with Republicans on the issue.
During an appearance on Sunday show, Meet the Press, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen once again warned that the federal government is projected to run out of money on or about 1 June.
Should the US be unable to pay its outstanding obligations to debt holders, or even raise questions about its ability to do so, it risks a downgrade of the US’s credit rating which would affect interest rates on future loans. The last official downgrading of the United States’s credit rating occurred in 2011, when Standard and Poor’s dropped the US’s rating from “AAA” to “AA+”.
“I indicated in my last letter to Congress that we expect to be unable to pay all of our bills in early June and possibly as soon as June 1. And I will continue to update Congress, but I certainly haven’t changed my assessment. So I think that that’s a hard deadline,” Sec. Yellen said.
She added that the possibilty was “quite low” that the US could extend its ability to pay its obligations through 15 June – referencing remarks made by Republicans who suggested Treasury could maneuver past a 1 June deadline without hitting a default.
”[I]t’s hard to be absolutely certain about this, but my assessment is that the odds of reaching June 15th, while being able to pay all of our bills, is quite low,” said Ms Yellen.
“[M]y assumption is that if the debt ceiling isn’t raised, there will be hard choices to make about what bills go unpaid.”
Mr Biden has been roundly accused by conservatives of refusing to negotiate cuts to federal spending ahead of the debt ceiling deadline. The White House, meanwhile, has blamed Republicans for putting the country’s credit rating at risk.
Earlier on Sunday, the president spoke at a press conference and did not indicate that he was completely opposed to reaching a compromise with Republicans on spending levels, though he warned that the GOP must be willing to move in his direction as well.
“It’s time for Republicans to accept that there’s no bipartisan deal to be made solely — solely — on their partisan terms,” said Mr Biden. “They have to move as well.”