House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Monday reignited his debt-ceiling showdown with the White House calling on President Biden to return to the negotiating table without “drawing lines in the sand.”
In his remarks on the eve of Mr. Biden’s State of the Union Address, Mr. McCarthy warned that adding runaway spending atop an already unwieldy national debt could cripple the country for generations.
“Of all the dangers we face, the greatest threat to our future is our national debt,” the California Republican said. “Our national debt is high. Too high. And the problem is getting worse, not better.”
“A responsible debt limit increase that begins to eliminate wasteful Washington spending and puts us on a path toward a balanced budget is not only the right place to start,” he said. “It’s the only place to start.”
The speaker’s remarks, delivered before a backdrop of American flags at the Capitol, marked a slight departure from both leaders’ overtures to reaching across the aisle following last week’s one-on-one with the president.
The talks capped weeks of partisan back-and-forth over Republican demands that the White House and Democratic-led Senate agree to negotiate spending levels before the House raises the nation’s borrowing limit.
Last month, the Treasury Department began taking “extraordinary measures” to stave off default when the government hit its $31.4 trillion borrowing capacity. Those emergency measures are expected to give the government enough breathing room to cover day-to-day expenses until the summer.
Mr. Biden initially balked at Mr. McCarthy’s demands for negotiations. He called on Congress to raise the debt ceiling “without conditions” and accused Republicans of using the full faith and credit of the nation as a bargaining chip in their quest to cut vital programs such as Social Security.
Mr. McCarthy has said that Social Security and Medicare are off the table in the debt-reduction talks.
Mr. McCarthy said after meeting with Mr. Biden that he could “see where we can find common ground” on spending as he addressed reporters outside of the White House.
The following day, Mr. Biden promised to work with Mr. McCarthy in a pledge of bipartisanship at the annual National Prayer Breakfast.
“Let’s start treating each other with respect,” the president said. “That’s what Kevin and I are going to do. I think we’ve got to do it across the board.”
On Monday, Mr. McCarthy was less conciliatory toward Democrats, who he said were responsible for “the largest debt limit increase in American history.”
He also accused Mr. Biden of applying a double standard in debt-ceiling negotiations.
“As a senator, you voted against raising the debt ceiling, Mr. President,” Mr. McCarthy said. “To quote your words, your vote in 2004 was ‘a protest of the policies that have brought us to this point and a demand that we change course.’”
“We need a different approach,” he said. “No drawing lines in the sand or saying it’s my way or the highway. No policy gimmicks or political games. But most of all, no more blank checks for runaway spending.”
Mr. McCarthy’s comments came after the White House defended the president’s spending plans.
“The President is delivering on his commitment to build an economy that grows from the bottom up and the middle out — not from the top down,” White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement ahead of Mr. McCarthy’s address. “The House GOP seems determined to pull the American economy in the opposite direction, increasing taxes on working families while giving $3 trillion in new handouts for the rich.”
Mr. Biden is expected to focus extensively on the economy during his State of the Union Address on Tuesday.
In a brief preview of the speech, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Mr. Biden will tout “the significant economic progress we’re seeing under his leadership, his economic vision that’s building our economy from the bottom up and the middle out, the historic pieces of legislation passed into law over the last two years.”
The president, however, is unlikely to convince Republicans to rally behind him on the economy.
Mr. McCarthy pledged to continue to negotiate with Mr. Biden and called on both parties to “commit to finding common ground on a responsible debt limit increase” and move toward a balanced budget.
“Mr. President, Congressional Republicans are ready to act — to save our country and to make America stronger,” he said. “I hope you will join us.”