WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden has expressed optimism about the chances of reaching an agreement with Republicans on raising or suspending the debt ceiling in time to avoid the economic fallout from even a possible US debt default.
“I really believe that there is a desire on both their side and ours to reach an agreement and I think we will get there,” Biden told reporters in Delaware on Sunday. Regarding his state of mind, he said, “I remain optimistic because I’m an innate optimist.”
Biden also referred to the ongoing talks between White House liaisons and congressional advisers as “negotiations,” a notable choice of words after months of insisting he would not “negotiate” the debt limit. The president and the four leading congressmen plan to meet again on Tuesday over the debt ceiling.
“I learned a long time ago, and you know as well as I do: it’s never good to characterize a negotiation in the middle of a negotiation,” Biden responded to a question about the state of the talks.
Biden’s comments followed the postponement of a White House meeting originally scheduled for Friday with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, DN.Y., Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y. , and Minority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
The White House said the three-day delay was a sign of progress in talks. “Meetings have been productive over the past few days and leaders wanted to move on before regrouping,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Friday.
Democrats have for months criticized the House Republican proposal that would call for sweeping federal spending cuts in exchange for agreeing to raise the debt ceiling. Just last Thursday, Biden accused Republicans in the House of “holding our economy hostage.”
Against the backdrop of months of bitter partisan attacks, Biden’s sudden change of tone on Sunday was striking.
But not all participants are so optimistic.
“I still think we’re a long way apart,” McCarthy told NBC News outside the Capitol on Monday, adding, “It doesn’t seem to me that they want a deal yet.”
“It seems like they want to look like they’re in a meeting,” McCarthy said. “You’re not talking anything serious.”
While Democrats are reluctant to discuss the GOP’s sweeping plan to cut federal spending, Biden appeared ready Sunday to consider specific Republican proposals.
When asked if he would consider a House GOP plan to tighten labor requirements for social safety net programs, Biden didn’t simply dismiss the idea, as several senior Democrats have.
Instead, he referred to his own record in the Senate voting on social work requirements in the 1990s.
“I voted for tougher support programs, that’s the law now, but it’s a different story for Medicaid,” he said. “And that’s why I’m waiting to hear her exact proposal.”
A Republican bill passed last month put stricter labor requirements not only on Medicaid but also on the Temporary Family Assistance Fund (TANF) and SNAP food stamps. The fact that Biden got rid of Medicaid but not TANF and SNAP offered a glimpse of where Democrats might be willing to give up.
Biden also said he plans to travel to Japan later this week to attend the G7 summit, a trip he previously said he could attend virtually if debt ceiling negotiations forced him to to stay in Washington.
While McCarthy didn’t criticize the president for traveling abroad during negotiations, he did indicate that to get a bill through Congress ahead of a potential default date, both leaders and staff would need to at least reach a short-term debt-limit agreement by this weekend that could come as soon as June 1st.
“I think we need to have a deal by the weekend,” McCarthy said, lamenting that the president “didn’t take it seriously.”
Investors are watching the negotiations unfold. Share prices fell Monday morning as investors ignored comments from Biden and McCarthy.
This is an evolving story. Please check back for updates.