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McCarthy blasts Biden, Democrats over debt limit

Speaker: House will act as soon as this month, but wants bipartisan talks

Speaker Kevin McCarthy has a tough job ahead wrangling votes in his chamber.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy has a tough job ahead wrangling votes in his chamber. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Speaker Kevin McCarthy began laying out House Republicans’ plan to lift the debt limit and curb spending in a speech at the New York Stock Exchange on Monday in which he tried to amp up the pressure on Democrats to negotiate.

The California Republican spent much of his half-hour speech, delivered on the 100th day of the new House GOP majority, disparaging President Joe Biden for not negotiating. He sought to place the blame at Biden’s feet should the debt limit standoff result in the United States not being able to pay its obligations on time.

“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 said.

“Defaulting on our debt is not an option,” the speaker added. “But neither is a future of higher taxes, higher interest rates, more dependency on China and an economy that doesn’t work for working Americans.”

Reiterating that “a no-strings-attached debt limit increase,” as Biden and top Democrats have demanded, will not pass the House, McCarthy said his chamber will vote “in the coming weeks” on a bill that would lift the debt ceiling into next year and limit federal spending. Later in a CNBC interview, he narrowed that timeline to “the next two weeks.”

The measure will “save taxpayers trillions of dollars, make us less dependent on China and curb high inflation — all without touching Social Security or Medicare,” McCarthy said in his New York Stock Exchange speech. Other details he described include:

  • Capping next year’s spending at fiscal 2022 levels and limiting spending growth over the following decade to 1 percent annually while ensuring “our veterans and our servicemembers are taken care of.”
  • Clawing back tens of billions of dollars in unspent pandemic funding.
  • Boosting domestic energy production with provisions from a package the House already passed.
  • Implementing work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents to receive certain federal benefits.

“My fellow Americans, as we confront the consequences of President Biden’s extreme, reckless spending, congressional Republicans are ready to act — and to lead,” McCarthy said.

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., said in a brief interview Monday evening that GOP leaders would present more details of the bill to their conference on Tuesday. Adjustments could be made to the text committee leaders have been drafting based on member feedback before the measure is introduced, he said.

Scalise declined to commit to the House voting on the measure before the end of its April work period next week, but he said, “We’d like to move it as fast as possible.”

He also demurred when asked if committees would mark up the legislation or if it would go straight to the floor, saying leadership is working with the committees. “We’ll have a formal detailed plan to roll out shortly,” Scalise said.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer held a news conference Monday to rebut the speaker’s remarks, accusing McCarthy of driving the country toward “default” with his attempt to hold the debt limit hostage.

Such a scenario would harm the economy and cause Americans to lose their jobs and face higher prices, the New York Democrat said.

“He went all the way to Wall Street and gave us no more details, no more facts, no new information at all,” he said.

However, Schumer acknowledged Senate Democrats would be willing to meet with McCarthy once he produces a concrete plan laying out the cuts he would make that could pass the House.

“What we got today was not a plan, it was a recycled pile of the same things he has been saying for months, none of which has moved the ball forward an inch,” Schumer said.

‘Ticking time bomb’

McCarthy urged the financial crowd gathered for his speech and others watching at home to join Republicans “in demanding a reasonable negotiation, a responsible debt ceiling, an agreement that brings spending under control.”

While a small portion of the speech was devoted to detailing House Republicans’ plan, McCarthy spent most of his remarks attacking Biden. He opened by accusing Biden of dismissing “Americans’ fears about higher prices” and noting he was there to tell the “truth.”

“Without exaggeration, America’s debt is a ticking time bomb that will detonate unless we take serious, responsible action,” he said.

McCarthy accused Biden of “demanding that Congress make room for new debt without a single sensible change to how government spends [taxpayers’] hard-earned money.”

He noted that every one of the eight “major deficit reduction laws” enacted in the past 35 years was attached to legislation that raised the debt ceiling.

They were also bipartisan, McCarthy said, noting Biden voted for four of those laws as a senator and opposed other debt limit increases when he felt the deficit reduction measures were insufficient. He quoted Biden in 2004 explaining his opposition to raising the debt limit as “a protest of the policies that have brought us to this point and a demand that we change course.”

“What changed, Joe?” McCarthy said. “I agree with the former, sensible Joe Biden. He knew that our government is designed to find compromise. I just wish the current, extreme Joe Biden would listen to the former Joe Biden too.”

‘Stop the partisan ways’

McCarthy said he’s not heard from the White House on the debt limit since he and Biden met on Feb. 1.

“Had the president agreed to negotiate in good faith, we’d already be done,” he said.

However, McCarthy said it’s not too late for Biden to come to the table. And he promised if Democrats negotiate a bipartisan deal, he’ll deliver a majority of Republican votes in support of it.

“If President Biden decides to stop the partisan ways and stands with us, then a majority of us will join with him in common cause to address this urgent challenge,” the speaker said.

McCarthy said he’s “not predetermining” the outcome of a bipartisan negotiation as he invoked former President Ronald Reagan, who served as his inspiration for delivering his economic message at the New York Stock Exchange.

“Just as Reagan talked about a malaise, of burdensome regulation, of inflation, of government trying to run the economy but ruining it — that is what we experienced today,” McCarthy said. “I’m here to tell you I want a responsible debt ceiling that puts us on an economic path to make America stronger, that works for every American.”

McCarthy’s speech is unlikely to change Biden’s position.

“There is one responsible solution to the debt limit: addressing it promptly, without brinksmanship or hostage taking — as Republicans did three times in the last administration and as Presidents Trump and Reagan argued for in office,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates said in a statement ahead of the speech.

In a subsequent statement after the speech, Bates accused McCarthy of breaking that “bipartisan norm” and described the plan he referenced in the speech as “a vague, extreme MAGA wish list that will increase costs for hard-working families.”

In both statements, Bates quoted former President Donald Trump in 2019 saying, “I can’t imagine anybody ever even thinking of using the debt ceiling as a negotiating wager.”

McCarthy is adamant he won’t give up on the fight for spending controls, just as he didn’t give up on his fight for speaker. Since he was in New York, he quoted “one of the most famous Yankees, the Great Bambino [Babe Ruth],” saying, “You just can’t beat the person who never gives up.”

McCarthy used the quote to describe himself, saying, “If there’s one thing I hope America has learned about me in the last 100 days, in my race to become speaker: I will never give up.”

Schumer, being from New York, took issue with that. 

“Don’t quote a Yankee to me in New York City,” he said. 

Schumer then quoted another Yankee legend, Yogi Berra, as he slammed McCarthy for having yet to produce a plan: “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

Aidan Quigley contributed to this report.

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