President Joe Biden talks to reporters as he departs the White House for the Memorial Day holiday weekend on May 26, 2023, in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy reached an “agreement in principle” late Saturday as they raced to strike a deal to limit federal spending and resolve the looming debt crisis ahead of a June 5 deadline, McCarthy said.
A deal would avert a catastrophic U.S. default, but risks angering both Democrats and Republicans with the concessions made to reach it.
The Democratic president and Republican speaker reached the agreement after the two spoke earlier Saturday evening by phone, said McCarthy, speaking Saturday night. The country and the world have been watching and waiting for a resolution to a political standoff that threatens the U.S. and global economy.
With the outlines of a deal in place, the legislative package could be drafted and shared with lawmakers in time for votes early next week in the House and later in the Senate.
Central to the package is a two-year budget deal that would hold spending flat for 2024 and impose limits for 2025 in exchange for raising the debt limit for two years, pushing the volatile political issue past the next presidential election.
Negotiators agreed to some Republican demands for enhanced work requirements on recipients of food stamps that had sparked an uproar from House Democrats as a nonstarter.
Biden also spoke earlier in the day with Democratic leaders in Congress to discuss the status of the talks, according to three people familiar with the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
They also had appeared to still be laboring over a compromise on federal permitting changes that would ease regulations for developing oil, gas and renewable energy projects and foster new transmission line connections.
McCarthy, who dashed out before the lunch hour Saturday and arrived back at the Capitol with a big box of takeout, declined to elaborate on those discussions. One of his negotiators, Louisiana Rep. Garret Graves, said there was “not a chance” that Republicans might relent on the work requirements issue.
Americans and the world were uneasily watching the negotiating brinkmanship that could throw the U.S. economy into chaos and sap world confidence in the nation’s leadership. House negotiators left the Capitol at 2 a.m. the night before, only to return hours later.
Failure to lift the borrowing limit, now $31 trillion, to pay the nation’s incurred bills, would send shock waves through the U.S. and global economy. Yellen said failure to act by the new date would “cause severe hardship to American families, harm our global leadership position and raise questions about our ability to defend our national security interests.”
The president, spending part of the weekend at Camp David, continued to talk with his negotiating team multiple times a day, signing off on offers and counteroffers. Biden was upbeat as he departed the White House on Friday evening, saying, “It’s very close, and I’m optimistic.”
All sides also are hearing from other lawmakers, including Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, the independent from Arizona, who has been in the center of big policy debates, and Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus.
Biden and McCarthy have seemed to be narrowing on a two-year budget-cutting deal that would also extend the debt limit into 2025 past the next presidential election. The contours of the deal have been taking shape to cut spending for 2024 and impose a 1% cap on spending growth for 2025.
Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, the Republican whip who is in charge of counting the votes from McCarthy’s slim majority to ensure passage of any deal, said he is telling rank-and-file lawmakers not to believe what they’re hearing until party leaders deliver the news about any deal.
Any deal would need to be a political compromise in a divided Congress. Many of the hard-right, Trump-aligned Republicans in Congress have long been skeptical of the Treasury’s projections, and they are pressing McCarthy to hold out.
“We’re constantly in touch with our members, letting them know that what is being reported, you should not accept that,” Emmer said. “If there’s an agreement, we will let them know.”
The Republican proposal on work requirements would save $11 billion over 10 years by raising the maximum age for existing standards that require able-bodied adults who do not live with dependents to work or attend training programs.
Current law applies those standards to recipients under the age of 50. The GOP plan would raise the age to include adults 55 and under. It would lower the number of exemptions that states can grant to some recipients subject to those requirements.
Biden has said the work requirements for Medicaid would be a nonstarter. He initially seemed potentially open to negotiating minor changes on food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, but his position has appeared to harden.
Lawmakers are not expected to return to work from the Memorial Day weekend before Tuesday, at the earliest, and McCarthy has promised lawmakers he will abide by the rule to post any bill 72 hours before voting.
The Democratic-held Senate has largely stayed out of the negotiations, leaving the talks to Biden and McCarthy. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York has pledged to move quickly to send a compromise package to Biden’s desk.
Weeks of talks have failed to produce a deal in part because the Biden administration resisted for months on negotiating with McCarthy, arguing that the country’s full faith and credit should not be used as leverage to extract other partisan priorities.