Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., left, and Rep. Patrick McHenry, RN.C., speaks to reporters about debt settlement negotiations as they leave a meeting of House Republicans at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington, May 23, 2023.
Bill Clark | Cq-roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images
WASHINGTON — Urgent talks to raise the US debt ceiling appeared closer to a deal on Thursday, with just seven days to go before the United States faces an imminent debt default.
But negotiators warn that the final phase of the talks is likely to be the most delicate and difficult for both sides.
“We are at a sensitive stage, with sensitive issues that remain. Those sensitive issues are the most difficult issues that we are dealing with,” said Republican negotiator Rep. Patrick McHenry, of North Carolina, to reporters at the Capitol on Thursday. “Everybody’s trying to do a good job of figuring out the finer details of it, but nobody’s done it.”
McHenry said no face-to-face meeting with the White House negotiating team had been planned for Thursday but he did not see that as a sign that talks had stalled.
“They have a job at the White House, we have a job here at the Capitol. I don’t know about physically coming together, but there is alignment in the range of things that we have to do,” McHenry said.
Read more: What Republicans want in exchange for raising the debt limit
At the White House, President Joe Biden sounded a cautiously positive note. “The only way to move forward is with a bipartisan agreement, and I believe we will have an agreement that allows us to move forward and protect the hardworking Americans of this country,” he said Thursday.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said he did not know if a deal would be reached Thursday.
“We talked to the White House today, we’re going to get on with the job,” he said after the House finished their final vote of the week and prepared to leave town. “They’re working with numbers, we’re working with numbers and we’re going to work together.”
One influential Republican said he was optimistic about reaching a deal before the holiday weekend. Rep. Kevin Hern, of Oklahoma, who chairs the 156-member Republican Study Committee, said Thursday he believed a deal would be “likely” reached by Friday afternoon.
“We are inching closer to a deal. I think it’s some of the finer points they are working on right now,” Hern told Reuters. “You should probably find a deal tomorrow afternoon.”
Fitch warns about US credit rating
Thursday’s talks were imbued with a new sense of urgency after credit rating agency Fitch announced late Wednesday that it would place the United States’ triple-A status on “viewing rating is negative.”
The agency also strongly indicated that if Congress does not reach an agreement before the Treasury Department’s June 1 deadline to raise or suspend the debt limit, Fitch will downgrade America’s credit rating.
Another sign that a deal may be near is a series of additional demands on McCarthy from the most conservative bloc of House Republicans, something GOP leadership expects whenever talks near a compromise.
On Thursday, 35 of McCarthy’s most vocal critics in the House GOP issued a letter urging the speaker to abandon current talks and issue a new slate of more polarizing demands.
Members of the House Freedom Caucus urged McCarthy to use the threat of an unprecedented debt default as leverage to force the White House to agree to a short-term extension of the debt ceiling through June, and use the additional time to get more concessions from the White House , including a border and immigration bill, and mount a campaign to discredit Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
The letter offers no indication of how any of these measures would pass the Democratic-controlled Senate, a necessary step to become law.
But it wasn’t just Republicans who showed signs of internal strife this week.
House Democrats have been increasingly critical of the White House’s apparent choice not to disclose details of the talks on a regular basis.
As a tactic, this is in stark contrast to McCarthy’s full-court PR press who chats with reporters several times a day and appears on TV almost every day.
The White House has sought to deflect criticism and said Biden has been talking about the debt ceiling for months.
“We’ve been very clear over the last five months,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said last week. “I wouldn’t just look at the last couple of days. The past five months, consistently, you’ve heard from this president.”
On Thursday, White House chief of staff Jeff Zients issued a rare tweet on the debt ceiling.
“Even now, Republicans want to add $3.5 trillion to the debt by expanding Trump’s tax breaks for the wealthy,” he wrote. What Zients didn’t say was that neither did Biden wants to extend those cutsbut only for households earning less than $400,000, and offset the cost by raising other taxes.
Shortly after Zients’ tweet, Biden made a point of addressing the debt ceiling talks at the White House, although he has said little about where they stand.