‘No solution in the Senate’: Both parties dig in on debt

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And that GOP agreement is highly unlikely to materialize any time soon. Jeffries’ plan landed with a thud among Republicans who want to see Biden give ground first, despite the Treasury Department’s warning that the nation could exhaust its ability to pay bills as early as June 1.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell confirmed that he will attend next week’s White House meeting while stressing that a deal must be struck by Biden and McCarthy: “There is no solution in the Senate.”

Biden must “make a counteroffer” during next week’s scheduled meeting with both parties’ top Hill leaders, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) agreed on Tuesday. “And a counteroffer cannot be a clean debt ceiling.”

No matter what compromise Biden can stomach, Tillis added, “there’s no question that” it would lose votes from House Republicans who supported McCarthy’s conservative opening bid last week. That bill would lift the nation’s borrowing cap by $1.5 trillion or through March 2024, whichever comes first, while slashing $130 billion in government funding and tightening work requirements for federal benefits.

Tillis described a Senate vote on a clean debt ceiling hike through the 2024 election, which Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is considering, as a “gimmick” and a “waste of chamber time” given the certainty of a GOP filibuster.

Senate Democrats will decide whether to put a clean debt ceiling increase up for a vote after the White House meeting on May 9, Schumer told reporters Tuesday.

If the Senate passes a clean debt limit increase, Congress could use the House GOP’s fiscal bill as a potential vehicle for a bipartisan government funding deal, Schumer said Tuesday. Yet the chances of that happening appear slim at the moment, with Republicans demanding massive federal funding cuts in exchange for raising the borrowing limit and GOP leaders refusing to decouple spending from debt.

Jeffries announced to House Democrats in a Tuesday letter that their party’s top member on the Rules Committee, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), had taken the first steps toward a discharge petition on a debt limit increase with no added conditions designed to win over Republicans.

“The filing of a debt ceiling measure to be brought up on the discharge calendar preserves an important option,” Jeffries wrote in a letter first reported by the New York Times. “It is now time for MAGA Republicans to act in a bipartisan manner to pay America’s bills without extreme conditions.”

His announcement came one day after the Treasury told lawmakers that the government could run out of cash by the beginning of June. Any discharge petition would require at least five Republicans to sign on in order to bring a bill to the House floor if it has sat in committee for more than 30 days.

McCarthy (R-Calif.) has vowed not to pass any debt ceiling bill without concessions in exchange, and his Republicans cleared a package last week that offers a slew of them — all enacting conservative priorities, on topics from energy to Biden’s student loan relief plan.

“Nobody wants to see the United States government have to change the name of the Department of Treasury to the Department of Debt because there’s no longer any treasury there,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said. “So, the time has come for the president to sit down with the House and be a leader.”

On Tuesday afternoon, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the Biden administration “won’t negotiate in public” about the potential for a short-term increase in the debt limit or any other options for averting a default.

“And our position is going to be very clear: that Congress needs to avoid a default — and I’ll leave it there — without conditions,” she told reporters.

Jean-Pierre also dismissed the suggestion that Biden’s inclusion of Schumer and McConnell in next week’s meeting is a sign that the president wants the Senate to take a leading role in the talks.

Meanwhile, with just over four weeks until the U.S. could risk defaulting on $31.4 trillion in debt, a temporary increase in the borrowing limit might be needed to head off economic tumult while leaders in Congress work with Biden on a longer-term solution.

Schumer on Tuesday swatted down that idea, however.

“We should not kick the can down the road. We should go for the full two-year extension,” he said.

Anthony Adragna and Jennifer Scholtes contributed to this report.

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( With inputs from : )

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