WASHINGTON – In an effort to lighten the tone despite days of negotiations, President Joe Biden said Thursday afternoon that he had had several “productive conversations” with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and their teams were “making progress” on debt ceiling talks as the country nears to default.
“I’ve made it clear over and over again that default on our national debt is not an option,” Biden said, speaking in the Rose Garden before the nomination of the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
But a deal still remains elusive, with a potential default just seven days away. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says the US government could run out of money to pay all its bills in early June, possibly as early as June 1.
House members left town Thursday for the Memorial Day weekend, but were told to be ready to return if a deal is reached.
“It’s time for Congress to act,” Biden said in the Rose Garden. “I want to be clear: The talks we’re having with Speaker McCarthy are about the outlines of what the budget will look like, not about default. It’s about competing visions of America.”
Leaving the Capitol later Thursday, McCarthy confirmed that there was no deal in hand as he “went back and forth” with the White House all day.
“The only way to move forward is a bipartisan agreement,” he said. “And I believe we will come to an agreement that will allow us to move forward and protect the hardworking Americans of this country.”
“We have been working all day, we will continue to work to try to solve the problem, but there is no agreement,” he said.
He said he would be working from Washington over the holiday weekend.
“I think both teams understand that we have some serious issues that need to be addressed and resolved, and it’s going to take some time,” Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, a key GOP negotiator, told reporters. to the speaker’s office on Thursday. – That’s all.
McHenry said at the time that work requirements for some federal aid continued to be a major problem.
Earlier Thursday, McCarthy told ABC News’ senior congressional correspondent Rachel Scott that “every hour counts” as the clock ticks down to June 1.
The speaker also expressed optimism that the two sides would come to a solution, though he dodged questions about tightening Congress’ schedule to be able to pass the deal.
“We worked well past midnight last night,” McCarthy said. “I thought yesterday was really good. We have made some progress. There are still some outstanding issues and I have ordered our teams to work 24/7 to try to resolve this issue.”
McHenry said earlier Thursday that there were still “fundamental differences” that needed to be resolved.
“Nothing is settled. Nothing is settled. And everybody wants to think you can lock something in and make a bank. You can’t make a bank until you actually have a complete deal,” he said.
Asked if he was confident a deal would be reached before this weekend, McHenry said: “I’m still trying to work on a deal. And it looks very difficult because we are dealing with very complex topics. I don’t think I made a secret out of it. That’s not the position I wanted us to be in.”
Even if an agreement is reached on the debt ceiling, Congress faces a serious time crunch to pass legislation before the end of the month. After drafting the bill, McCarthy promised to give House members 72 hours to consider it, a concession he offered to conservative hardliners who blocked his vote for speaker earlier this year. The Senate will then have to consider the bill before it goes to President Joe Biden’s desk.
Complicating matters is the Memorial Day break. The House made the announcement Thursday and the Senate left town last week, though leadership in both chambers told lawmakers to be ready to return to Washington immediately if a deal is struck.
Several Democrats have expressed frustration over the status of the talks in recent days, with House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., denying McCarthy’s plans to delay the meeting and calling out Republicans for what he called “unreasonable demands.”
“My understanding is that both President Biden and Speaker McCarthy’s appointees will continue the conversation, but it’s unfortunate that House Republicans have decided to leave town before the sun goes down,” Jeffries said at a news conference.
He accused the Republican Party of “fabricating a crisis” over the debt ceiling, accusing the party of holding the economy hostage.
“Republicans are leading us down a dangerous path of default or have presented the American people with another unacceptable choice, which is devastating cuts to children, devastating cuts to Medicaid, devastating cuts to food, devastating cuts to education, devastating cuts to public safety and devastating cuts to our veterans,” he said. he
Congressional Progressive Caucus leader Pramila Jayapal of Washington expressed similar concerns, warning Wednesday that progressives “are not going to make a deal that hurts working people.”
Rep. Jamal Bowman, D-N.Y., said he was “very concerned” that Biden was giving away too much in the talks.
Bowman added, “I’m advocating for the White House to ensure that we don’t give up the house and we don’t do our duty.”
Jeffries said Thursday that Biden “continues to hold the line” on spending cuts that Republicans are pushing for.
Meanwhile, conservative hardliners are also urging McCarthy to stand his ground. They say they want to end Democrats’ “addiction” to government spending, which they blame for inflation and other economic problems.
“Hold the line,” said Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas.
“This White House is a mockery of leadership. So we have to stand firm and actually lead the country. And we have an opportunity to do that,” said Rep. Brian Donalds, R-Fla.
As the policy unfolds, credit rating agency Fitch warned on Thursday that it was putting the US credit rating on hold for a possible downgrade.
Pressed for his reaction, McCarthy said he was not concerned.
“At the end of the day, my concern is that if you don’t have a deal that the American public deserves, you should be worried about Fitch. I don’t,” he said.
ABC News’ Alexandra Hutzler, Alison Pecorin and Trish Turner contributed to this report.