Biden/McCarthy meeting on debt ceiling ends without agreement

Washington, Feb 1 (EFE).- Democratic President Joe Biden and the leader of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, ended their White House meeting on Wednesday afternoon without agreement on raising the US debt ceiling but amid positive feelings.

Upon leaving the 90-minute meeting, McCarthy said that he had had a “good” conversation with Biden and that, although no accord was struck, both men did agree on the need to continue talking to narrow the differences between the two parties.

“I think at the end of the day, we can find common ground,” McCarthy told a large group of reporters just outside the Oval Office after emerging from the meeting, adding that “there’s an opportunity here to come to an agreement on both sides.”

“We have different perspectives. But we both laid out some of our vision of where we’d want to get to. And I believe, after laying them both out, I can see where we can find common ground,” he said.

In a statement, the White House reported that Biden and McCarthy had a “frank and straightforward dialogue” in which the president emphasized his “enthusiasm” about continuing to work “in good faith” to resolve their differences and find a solution.

The Republican leader, however, insisted that the US cannot continue going deeper into debt beyond the current level of $31.4 trillion.

In that regard, McCarthy compared the current situation with that of a child to whom his father gives a credit card and ends up racking up debts above and beyond the credit limit, saying that the responsible thing is to pay the debts already incurred and, going forward, not necessarily to raise the credit limit but to look more closely at how money is being spent.

In general terms, Republicans view the battle over raising the debt ceiling as an opportunity to squeeze concessions from Biden for the first time since they took power in the House in January 2021, given that they now hold a narrow majority there after the mid-term elections last November.

Faced with that, the White House said in its post-meeting communique that Biden had made clear that it is a “shared duty” between the administration and the House, and between and within the two parties, “not to allow an unprecedented and economically catastrophic default. The United States Constitution is explicit about this obligation, and the American people expect Congress to meet it in the same way all of his predecessors have. It is not negotiable or conditional.”

At her daily press briefing, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre made a dig at McCarthy by alluding to his fragile position within his own party after a group of ultraconservative lawmakers opposed his election as speaker of the House, although ultimately they ended up allowing his election to proceed, albeit not without extracting a series of so far secret concessions from him.

“We understand what the speaker is going through,” she said. “He has a caucus that has put forth some pretty extreme ideas, some extreme options in front of the American people. Cutting Medicare, cutting Social Security. That is what he’s dealing with.”

The meeting between the top Democrat and Republican in Washington was held behind closed doors without any reporters present, in contrast to on other occasions, to be able to ask questions and hear the opinion of each of the parties.

The debt ceiling is the total amount of money that the US government is authorized to borrow to fulfill its legal obligations – that is, to pay its bills, including its obligations to the public under Social Security and Medicare, military salaries, interest on the national debt, tax refunds and other payments.

Every so often, the US comes up against the need to pay off a portion of the national debt because, in contrast to many other nations, the US executive branch can only issue debt up to the limit established by Congress, which has the power to raise the debt ceiling, if it feels that is necessary.

If Congress, where Republicans narrowly control the House and Democrats narrowly control the Senate, does not agree to raise the debt ceiling, the country will be forced to stop paying its bills, a situation that could result in a nearly unprecedented global financial crisis.

EFE bpm-ssa/rrt/bp

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