WASHINGTON — Republican negotiators tasked with cutting a deal with the White House to avoid a potentially disastrous debt default at the end of the month said Friday they’d paused talks with the Biden administration because they’re “not productive.”
“We decided to press pause because it’s just not productive,” said Rep. Garret Graves, R-La, who was tapped by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to lead the negotiations with White House staff.
He declined to comment on details of the negotiations, but said the administration was being “unreasonable” as the clock ticks to the June 1 deadline set by the Treasury Department to act or risk a calamitous default on U.S. debt.
“Until people are willing to have reasonable conversations about how you can actually move forward and do the right thing, then we’re not going to sit here and talk to ourselves,” Graves said, maintaining the House had done its part by passing a bill to raise the debt ceiling.
Part of the hang-up is that House Republicans want to force major spending cuts that are opposed by President Joe Biden and dead on arrival in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
“Look, we can’t be spending more money next year,” McCarthy, R-Calif., said Friday, sounding a pessimistic tone about the status of the negotiations. “We have to spend less than we spent the year before. It’s pretty easy.”
He said there hasn’t been enough “movement” from the White House, adding that he had spoken to Graves on Friday but not to the president.
A White House spokesperson said Friday that “a responsible, bipartisan budget agreement remains possible if both sides negotiate in good faith and recognize that neither side will get everything it wants.”
“There are real differences between the parties on budget issues and talks will be difficult,” the spokesperson added. “The president’s team is working hard towards a reasonable bipartisan solution that can pass the House and the Senate.”
Democrats are reluctant to accept a spending limit that’s lower than current levels, a source familiar with the party’s stance said. The party may prefer to maintain existing levels, even if it means a new spending deal fails and the government runs on autopilot through a continuing resolution.
There is a push, according to a Democratic source familiar with the negotiations, to pass a short-term spending resolution at the same time as a debt limit hike through early 2025. That would give McCarthy what he’s wanted all along: moving those two issues in tandem — while the White House and Democrats, who initially demanded a “clean” debt hike, can save face by claiming the negotiation is about the budget.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said earlier this week, “Avoiding default should not be contingent on passing the GOP’s hard right partisan agenda.”
Congress must act in the coming weeks or the U.S. could breach the debt ceiling as soon as June 1, the Treasury Department has warned.
Asked if talks would resume later Friday or Saturday, Graves said, “I don’t know.”
A source familiar with the negotiations said hardline conservatives were pleased by the pause.
“The fact they are doing this shows they are still willing to walk away,” the source said, adding there had been concerns that McCarthy’s team had not been focusing on their core issue.
“The cuts are what matter,” the source said.
Meanwhile, a GOP aide said conservatives “are privately seething” at how the talks have been going and that “Republicans are giving away their leverage.”
On Thursday, the conservative Freedom Caucus issued a statement saying the House-passed debt bill represents the formal position of the bloc of roughly 30 hard-right House Republicans.
Former President Donald Trump, who’s urged Republicans to let the default happen if their demands aren’t met, reiterated that call on his social media website Friday.
“REPUBLICANS SHOULD NOT MAKE A DEAL ON THE DEBT CEILING UNLESS THEY GET EVERYTHING THEY WANT (Including the ‘kitchen sink’),” Trump, the leading Republican presidential candidate, wrote on Truth Social. “THAT’S THE WAY THE DEMOCRATS HAVE ALWAYS DEALT WITH US. DO NOT FOLD!!!”
Alexandra Bacallao, Monica Alba, Ali Vitali, Jillian Frankel, Kristen Welker and Dareh Gregorian contributed.