Biden Congress

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of Calif., speaks on the House floor at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 7. Andrew Harnik/Associated Press file

WASHINGTON – President Biden plans to aggressively press House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) during a White House meeting Wednesday to commit to avoiding a default on the nation’s debt and to spell out what spending cuts he advocates, according to a memo distributed by senior aides.

The White House preview of the high-stakes meeting Tuesday comes as it remains in a standoff with House Republicans over raising the debt limit. Republicans are insisting on yet-unspecified spending cuts in exchange for their support, a posture the party didn’t take during the presidency of Donald Trump when the limit was raised three times. The White House is seeking a clean bill but has expressed openness to spending discussions later.

In a memo to “interested parties,” Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council, and Shalanda Young, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said Biden would question McCarthy in two areas:

– Whether he will “commit to the bedrock principle that the United States will never default on its financial obligations” and whether he will agree “that it is critical to avoid debt limit brinkmanship.”

– Whether Republicans will release a budget “so that the American people can see how House Republicans plan to reduce the deficit.” The memo says Biden will release his budget on March 9.

The memo amounts to an attempt by the White House to set the agenda and put McCarthy on the defensive ahead of a meeting that he requested.


“Any serious conversation about economic and fiscal policy needs to start with a clear understanding of the participants’ goals and proposals,” Deese and Young wrote in the memo. “Speaker McCarthy and his Caucus need to transparently lay out to the American people their fiscal and economic proposals in the normal budget process.”

In the memo, Deese and Young seek to portray McCarthy as out of step with other national leaders of both parties, noting, for example, that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is among those who have spoken out about the importance of the United States meeting its financial obligations and that Republican presidents Trump and Ronald Reagan sought to avoid brinkmanship on the issue.

McCarthy has said that Social Security and Medicare are “off the table” for spending cuts but that every other program, including money for the military, should be scrutinized for spending cuts.

However, some in the House GOP have raised the prospect of cuts to the two major entitlement programs. The effort would certainly fail in the Democratic-led Senate, where Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) has rejected the idea.

Earlier this month, the Treasury Department began “extraordinary measures” to pay the nation’s bills after reaching its limit on how much it can borrow. The government is expected to keep operating that way until June.

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