Screenshot of U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaking about the debt limit crisis at the New York Stock Exchange on Monday, April 17, 2023. (Screenshot from speaker’s office webcast)
U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy traveled to the New York Stock Exchange on Monday to press for the Republican approach to raising the nation’s debt limit in front of a new audience, calling on Democrats to agree to future spending cuts without any tax increases.
McCarthy repeatedly criticized President Joe Biden and blamed him for a standoff over the debt limit that’s lasted for months.
“Make no mistake, the longer President Biden waits to be sensible, to find an agreement, the more likely it becomes that this administration will bumble into the first default in our nation’s history,” McCarthy, a California Republican, said, adding that “addressing the debt requires us to come together, find common ground and reduce spending.”
McCarthy said during the speech that Republicans would never agree to a stand-alone debt limit bill, or one that increases taxes.
Biden and Democrats have repeatedly said Congress should raise the debt limit in a stand-alone bill. They maintain that discussions about changes to tax and spending policy should take place within the annual budget and appropriations process.
Ahead of McCarthy’s speech, Andrew Bates, deputy White House press secretary, accused McCarthy of “holding the full faith and credit of the United States hostage, threatening our economy and hardworking Americans’ retirement.”
The GOP debt limit legislation, which McCarthy outlined Monday without citing specifics, would:
- Reduce federal spending to the previous fiscal year’s spending levels.
- Cap increases in federal spending to 1% annually during the next decade.
- “Claw back” billions of dollars of “COVID-related” federal funding.
- Expand the U.S. economy.
- Set “work requirements that ensure able-bodied adults without dependents earn a paycheck and learn new skills.” While McCarthy did not name programs, Republicans have advocated work requirements in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for low-income people, previously known as food stamps.
The U.S. House will vote on the GOP proposal that would raise the debt ceiling into next year in the “coming weeks,” McCarthy said.
Democrats blast speech
Any debt limit increase will need bipartisan support to move through the Democratically controlled U.S. Senate and become law, though the GOP proposal McCarthy announced Monday likely cannot meet that benchmark.
Democrats quickly rebuked McCarthy’s speech and the proposal.
House Budget Committee ranking member Brendan Boyle, a Pennsylvania Democrat, said in a statement that 100 days into McCarthy’s speakership “House Republicans are rudderless and continue to hold our economy hostage.”
The United States reached its $31.385 trillion borrowing ceiling on Jan. 19.
The Treasury Department has been using accounting tools known as extraordinary measures since then to keep the country under its debt limit, allowing the federal government to keep paying all of the country’s bills in full and on time.
Those measures are limited and the Treasury Department expects they could exhaust them as early as mid-June, though the Congressional Budget Office has set the window for default between July and September.
If Congress and the Biden administration can’t agree on a bipartisan agreement to provide the Treasury Department with more borrowing authority by then, the country would default on its debt for the first time in history.
That would limit the Treasury Department to only paying for bills with the cash the federal government has on hand at the time. The full extent of the impact is unclear, but it’s likely payments for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, federal employee salaries, public lands and hundreds of other federal programs would be delayed.
The stock market and global economy would likely enter a downturn, possibly pushing the United States and other countries into a recession.
Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, told Congress in March that a first-ever default on the debt would be problematic.
“It would be a significant hit to the wealth of all Americans and then ultimately we’d start losing jobs, unemployment would start to rise, we’d be in a very, very severe recession,” Zandi said. “So all of us would be hit hard by that kind of scenario, depending on how long it unfolds.”
No meeting since February
McCarthy and Biden met to discuss the debt limit on Feb 1, but haven’t had in-person negotiations since then, with both sides digging in on their respective positions.
Biden has repeatedly called on U.S. House Republicans to release a budget resolution for the upcoming fiscal year, saying once that’s out the two sides can compare Biden’s budget request to what the GOP wants to do.
House Republicans have not yet released their fiscal 2024 budget resolution and haven’t released a timeline for when they would.
McCarthy has argued for months that any increase to the debt limit, which allows the federal government to pay for spending Congress has already approved, should be tied to future spending cuts.
McCarthy, speaking Monday, said he chose the New York Stock Exchange as the venue for his speech because it “represents the best of the American economy — fast-paced, future focused and dynamic.”
A spokesperson for House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries said in a statement following the speech that it doesn’t represent a plan.
“Extreme MAGA Republicans continue to treat the full faith and credit of the United States as a hostage situation while their so-called budget proposal remains in the witness protection program,” Christie Stephenson said.
“As always, we will evaluate any legislative text when and if House Republicans can ever agree with themselves about how much they want to devastate American families in order to finance tax cuts for the wealthy, well-off and well-connected,” Stephenson added.
Boyle, the top Democrat on the Budget Committee, said in a statement that House Republicans “are in chaos and that’s why today’s speech was nothing more than a recitation of the same bad ideas and devastating cuts Republicans have been pushing — and Americans have been rejecting — for decades.”
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