WASHINGTON (CN) — The shadow of an impending U.S. debt crisis loomed large over a congressional visit to Israel Monday, where House Speaker Kevin McCarthy reiterated his support for a GOP plan of shoehorning spending cuts into a plan that would raise the federal debt ceiling.
McCarthy and a bipartisan delegation of lawmakers headed to Israel just days after the Republican-controlled House narrowly passed controversial legislation to raise the government’s self-imposed spending limits while slashing spending — a retort to the White House’s desire for a “clean” debt ceiling increase without conditions.
Although Democrats and the Biden administration have accused Republicans of holding the economy hostage in exchange for budget concessions and have urged McCarthy to back down, the House speaker signaled to reporters in Jerusalem Monday that he would not blink.
“The only way to solve problems is to negotiate,” McCarthy said at a press conference. “I’m looking forward to the president changing his mind and negotiating with us. If that’s not the case, I wanted to make sure that the debt ceiling did get raised — and so we raised it before we came here.”
The speaker argued that the spending cuts included in Republicans’ bill would be good for the economy and promote U.S. energy independence by incentivizing natural gas production.
McCarthy chalked up the debt ceiling standoff, which has made little progress since the beginning of the year, to a difference of opinion between Democrats and Republicans, and implored the Senate to pass the GOP spending patch.
“If the Senate has a different opinion, pass the bill,” the speaker said. Invoking children’s cartoon "Schoolhouse Rock," McCarthy suggested that Congress could work out their disagreements on the Republican proposal in a conference committee.
“The one thing I do know is that in 'Schoolhouse Rock,' they never told you not to negotiate. They told you to work together,” McCarthy said.
Biden and McCarthy met in February to discuss the debt ceiling, but a second meeting has yet to take place.
Following the speaker’s comments, Maryland Democrat Steny Hoyer took the opportunity to allay concerns from the international community that the U.S. could default on its debt absent an agreement between lawmakers, alluding to comments Speaker McCarthy made during an April speech on Wall Street.
“[McCarthy] said that defaulting on our debt is not an option,” the congressman said. “I think we have almost universal agreement on that proposition. I believe America will not default on its debt.”
The House speaker jumped back up to the lectern to add a caveat. “We will not pass a debt ceiling that just raises it without doing something about our debt,” he said.
The Republican bill, if made law, would give the government an additional $1.5 trillion in spending authority until March of next year. In addition to a laundry list of budget cuts, the measure would also cap spending growth at just 1% for the next decade.
Democrats have blasted the debt ceiling patch as irresponsible policy — House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries last week called on the GOP to drop its effort and to bring forward its proposed spending cuts as part of annual budget negotiations.
Jeffries and other Democrats have also argued that they worked with the Trump administration on several occasions to pass a clean debt ceiling increase, and that Republicans should do the same under President Biden.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer meanwhile announced Monday that the upper chamber would begin hearings this week to consider what he called a reckless Republican spending bill and accused Speaker McCarthy of bowing to the more right-wing members of his party.
The GOP’s debt ceiling proposal is unlikely to survive the Democrat-controlled Senate. If it does make its way to President Biden’s desk, the White House has said plainly that he would not sign it.Follow @BenjaminSWeiss
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