Biden adjusts travel plans as GOP, Democrats still far apart on debt talks

Washington, May 16 (EFE).- President Joe Biden on Tuesday canceled the second part of his G7 summit trip to Papua New Guinea and Australia so that he can continue talks with Republican lawmakers on raising the debt limit, the White House said, although the two sides remain far apart in their stances on the matter.

Biden will travel on Wednesday to Japan for the summit but he will return to Washington earlier than planned due to the inability, so far, of Republicans in Congress and the White House to reach agreement on raising the debt limit, a situation that – if unresolved – threatens to send the country into an historic default on its public debt.

White House spokesman John Kirby had already said at a press conference that Biden was reevaluating the second portion of his Asia trip given the difficulties of reaching an agreement with Congress, specifically with GOP lawmakers.

“We wouldn’t even be having this discussion about the effect of the debt ceiling debate on the trip, if Congress would do its job, raise the debt ceiling the way they’ve always done,” Kirby said.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that Biden will return to Washington next Sunday as soon as the G7 summit concludes and will not travel to Sidney or to Papua New Guinea, as he initially had planned.

Meanwhile, GOP House Speaker Kevin McCarthy confirmed Tuesday after meeting with Biden that the two sides are still “very far” from striking a deal to raise the debt limit and prevent the country from defaulting on its already-incurred debts.

If the country’s borrowing power is not increased, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has predicted the US government could run out of money to pay its bills as early as June 1.

McCarthy was asked by a reporter on emerging from his meeting with the president about whether the sides were still far apart and he answered “yes.”

Immediately thereafter, the reporter asked if it would be possible to reach agreement by the end of this week, to which the House speaker responded affirmatively.

“We know we’re not going to default,” said McCarthy, but “We’re running out of time.”

He added, however, that the Tuesday meeting was “productive.”

Just like the earlier debt negotiation meeting between McCarthy and Biden, Tuesday’s talks also included Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and the heads of the Democrats in the Senate and the House, Chuck Schumer and Hakeem Jeffries, respectively.

Vice President Kamala Harris was also present at the White House meeting.

Currently, Republican and Democratic lawmakers, and the White House, are negotiating on raising the debt limit, which presently stands at $31.4 trillion.

Since Jan. 19, the US government has had to use reserve funds to pay its debts. If the government defaults, this would be a first-ever occurrence that many analysts say would have far-reaching negative effects on the US economy, job growth and the stock market, not to mention on economies and markets around the world.

They say defaulting would seriously undermine faith in the US government’s ability to pay its debts, which would have unforeseen – but very damaging – consequences.

The White House issued a statement saying that the Tuesday talks were productive and direct, noting that Biden emphasized that, despite the fact that work remains to be done and there are a large number of “difficult” issues to resolve, he is optimistic that an agreement can be reached if both sides negotiate “in good faith” and recognize that nobody will get everything they want.

Schumer said that resolving the debt limit situation is necessary to avoid a “disastrous” suspension of US government payments, which could mean that government employees, Social Security recipients and contractors, among others, would not receive their scheduled payments.

Jeffries said that the only way forward in the talks is to reach a “bipartisan” agreement anchored to common ground between the two sides but both Republicans and Democrats agree that defaulting is not acceptable and must be avoided.

“Nobody should use default as a hostage,” Schumer said at the US Capitol on Tuesday. “The consequences would be devastating for America.”

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