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After meeting with Biden, McCarthy says he won't agree to clean debt ceiling increase

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill after meeting with President Biden on Feb. 1, 2023.
Devin Speak
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill after meeting with President Biden on Feb. 1, 2023.

President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy discussed how to avoid defaulting on the U.S. debt for an hour Wednesday. McCarthy said he and the president will continue searching for a solution.

For the first time since becoming House speaker, California Republican Kevin McCarthy will meet Wednesday with President Joe Biden to discuss, among other things, how to avoid a default on the U.S. debt.

The federal government reached its $31.4 trillion debt limit earlier this month, and since then the Treasury Department has been taking "extraordinary measures" to ensure the country pays its bills and avoids a default. But those measures could be exhausted as early as June, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says.

That means Congress has to act, by either raising or suspending the debt limit. Failing to do so would mean an unprecedented and potentially catastrophic default on U.S. debt.

The White House has consistently said lifting the ceiling is not up for negotiation. Biden said earlier this month that a default would be "a calamity that exceeds anything that's ever happened financially in the United States."

But to win over conservatives in his bid for the speakership, McCarthy agreed that raising the debt ceiling would come with spending cuts. McCarthy said last week that he hopes to find "common ground" with Biden to eliminate "wasteful" government spending.

"I want to look the president in the eye and tell me there's not $1 of wasteful spending and government. Who believes that? The American public doesn't believe that. Our whole government is designed to have compromise," McCarthy said. "For the president to say he wouldn't even negotiate, that's irresponsible."

On Tuesday, Biden told reporters McCarthy is a "decent man" but is catering to the far-right wing of his party on this issue.

"This is not your father's Republican Party," Biden said. "I mean it, this is a different breed of cat."

Democrats point out that Republican lawmakers voted to lift the debt ceiling three times under former President Trump– and argue that the health of the economy should not be used as a bargaining chip.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lexie Schapitl
Lexie Schapitl is a news assistant with NPR's Washington Desk, where she produces radio pieces and digital content. She also reports from the field and assists with production of the NPR Politics Podcast.
Dustin Jones
Dustin Jones is a reporter for NPR's digital news desk. He mainly covers breaking news, but enjoys working on long-form narrative pieces.