The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

McCarthy demands meeting with Biden. White House: Show us your budget.

President Biden walks with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) after attending the annual St. Patrick's Day luncheon on Capitol Hill on March 17. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Tuesday demanded a meeting with President Biden to discuss the nation’s debt limit — a move that the White House and Democrats suggested was premature until House Republicans overcome delays and produce their own budget proposal.

In a letter, McCarthy sought to pin blame on Biden for the continuing standoff, saying he was putting the president “on the clock” to find a meeting time so the two could discuss spending cuts that Republicans want in exchange for their support of legislation to raise the debt ceiling.

But Biden and fellow Democrats suggested there is little point in an Oval Office meeting until House Republicans produce a budget document that can be compared to one issued by the White House nearly three weeks ago.

“Speaker McCarthy says he wants to sit down with the president,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in remarks on the Senate floor. “But if he comes to the president’s office with no specific plan, no specific details about what the Republicans want to cut — what are they going to talk about? The weather?”

The back-and-forth highlighted how both sides remain dug in over the debt ceiling, the legal limit on how much the U.S. government can borrow to pay for spending that policymakers in both parties have already approved.

Congress must raise or suspend the $31 trillion cap as soon as this summer or risk a default, a crisis that could rattle markets globally while triggering a potential recession in the United States.

McCarthy argued Tuesday that legislation could be crafted to raise the debt ceiling and make spending cuts without House Republicans first producing a full budget proposal.

“Let’s be very honest about this: The budget doesn’t have anything to do with the debt ceiling,” McCarthy said on CNBC. “I can pass a budget tomorrow, and we’ll still need to pass a debt ceiling. … These are apples and oranges.”

House Republicans are already behind schedule in crafting a budget plan, and lawmakers are about to take a scheduled two-week recess — which Biden highlighted in his response letter to McCarthy on Tuesday evening.

“My hope is that House Republicans can present the American public with your budget plan before the Congress leaves for the Easter recess so that we can have an in-depth conversation when you return,” the president wrote.

“I look forward to your response, to eliminating the specter of default, and to your budget,” Biden said to cap his letter.

The White House is asking lawmakers to pass a clean bill raising the debt limit. Republicans did that three times during the presidency of Donald Trump.

Apart from that, Biden has said he would be happy to compare budgets with McCarthy.

“Congress has a constitutional obligation to address the debt limit — as they did three times in the previous administration without conditions,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement. “It’s time for Republicans to stop playing games, pass a clean debt ceiling bill, and quit threatening our economic recovery.”

She said that Biden’s budget proposal cuts the deficit by nearly $3 trillion “while lowering costs for families and investing in America.”

While chiding Republicans for not issuing a budget proposal, the White House has also sought to hammer the party on potential cuts that are based on proposals made by smaller groups of lawmakers or a think tank advising the Republican conference.

“All we’ve heard from them is a list of devastating cuts to law enforcement and border security and proposals to take health care away from Americans and raise health-care and child-care costs,” Jean-Pierre said.

During a visit to North Carolina on Tuesday, Biden made no mention of McCarthy’s demand for a meeting, but he criticized Republicans who are threatening to default on the debt if they don’t get their way on the budget.

“They’re putting our economy in jeopardy by threatening to refuse to pay America’s bills,” Biden said after touring a semiconductor manufacturer in Durham.

In his letter, McCarthy suggested that Biden is the one responsible for bringing the country to the brink of default.

“With each passing day, I am incredibly concerned that you are putting an already fragile economy in jeopardy by insisting upon your extreme position of refusing to negotiate any meaningful changes to out-of-control government spending alongside an increase of the debt limit,” McCarthy wrote.

He mentioned a few GOP priorities, including reducing nondefense government spending to “pre-inflationary levels and limiting out-year growth,” as well as strengthening work requirements for some safety-net programs.

Democrats said that is insufficient for serious discussions.

“What I saw out of the speaker’s letter … was a couple of bullet points,” Rep. Pete Aguilar (Calif.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, told reporters. “Bullet points don’t make a budget.”

In his floor remarks, Schumer suggested House Republicans are struggling to produce a budget because of ideological differences among their narrow majority.

“Speaker McCarthy has failed to unite his conference behind a single proposal that can win 218 votes,” Schumer said. “When Speaker McCarthy points fingers at Democrats, all he is doing is deflecting from problems he has in his own conference. Those on the MAGA right want to pull one way, and those who are mainstream want to pull another way, and he can’t bring the two of them together.”