White House Rules Out Negotiating With GOP Over Debt Ceiling Spending Cut Proposal
By Bryan Jung
White House chief of staff Jeff Zients said the Biden administration would not negotiate with GOP over its debt ceiling spending cut proposal.
The administration is insisting that talks over raising the U.S. debt limit be kept separate from talks about federal spending.
Zients told NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid, in an April 20 interview, that President Joe Biden would refuse to negotiate over spending cuts with House Republicans in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.
Zients said that Republicans are irresponsible for “tying two things together that should never be tied together,” referring to the debt limit and budget discussions.
The White House official made his statements after Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) released a legislative framework that would raise the debt limit for a year while cutting spending to 2022 levels.
“Top-line, [the] impact is really bad,” Zients said. “The White House estimates non-defense discretionary spending would be cut by 22 percent,” he said, describing McCarthy’s proposal.
Debt Ceiling Impasse
McCarthy has been asking that the White House negotiate with Congressional Republicans to avoid defaulting on the debt, which could happen in early summer unless there is an agreement to raise the limit.
The impact of a U.S. government default would send shockwaves through the global economy.
Zients said that the danger of “brinksmanship” would have “major impacts on the economy, on families across the country. And we’re not doing that again.”
He said, “I think the off-ramp’s very clear. It’s the same off-ramp that was taken with no drama…when President Trump was in the White House, take default off the table, like we have every time.”
“Don’t play games with the full faith and credit of the United States. It’s unacceptable. It’s not up for negotiation. And then have the separate discussion around different visions for the future of the country and budgets.”
He said that Biden would again oppose Congressional Republicans based on experience from 2011 when he was vice-president during the Obama administration, which was the last debt limit debate.
Khalid asked Zients why the administration was so unwilling to negotiate with Congress over the debt ceiling since the Obama White House did negotiate with House Republicans over spending cuts back in 2011 when debt limit proposals were on the table.
Zients explained that times were different, saying, “if you’re going back a decade, I think the lesson learned was that playing brinkmanship with the full faith and credit of the U.S., of our country and getting close to a period of default had major impacts on the economy, on families across the country and we’re not doing that again.”
White House Refuses to Negotiate
Zients sidestepped the question of whether the White House would talk with McCarthy now that the speaker had laid out his plan.
Both parties had agreed to resume talks over the debt ceiling after they had offered their budget frameworks.
Biden released his budget proposal on March 9 after McCarthy offered his earlier on Feb. 1.
“I’m ready to meet with the speaker anytime—tomorrow, if he has his budget,” said Biden, adding, “lay it down. Tell me what you want to do. I’ll show you what I want to do. See what we can agree on.”
The president has not kept his promise to meet with the House Speaker since then, despite their mutual agreement.
Biden attacked McCarthy’s plan in a speech on April 13, describing it as “massive cuts in programs you count on, massive benefits protected for those at the top,” saying it would mean major cuts to funding for “child care, government housing assistance, opioid treatment and food stamps.”
“Take default off the table, and let’s have a real serious detailed conversation about how to grow the economy, lower costs and reduce the deficit,” Biden demanded.
McCarthy’s House Republicans have a slim majority, making their hold tenuous, but if the speaker can keep his caucus on line, it could pressure the Democratic-controlled Senate and the White House to negotiate more on his terms.
Pandemic Relief Fund
The White House official also told NPR that the administration opposes McCarthy’s plan to claw back unspent pandemic relief funds as part of its fiscal reform package in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.
Zients, who was Biden’s COVID response coordinator before becoming chief of staff, said it was not “a prudent thing to do or a fair thing to do.”
He explained that the relief money includes “funding to help transport older Americans, those with disabilities who live in rural communities.”
“It’s a false notion that there’s a large amount of unspent COVID relief funds that can just be painlessly clawed back,” Zients said.