U.S. negotiators are in urgent talks to raise the country’s debt ceiling with only seven days left before the nation could face an imminent threat of debt default. Despite the time pressure, there appears to be progress in the negotiations, with both sides expressing cautious optimism about reaching a bipartisan agreement.
Republican negotiator Rep. Patrick McHenry has warned that the final phase of talks would likely be the most delicate and difficult for both sides. McHenry stated that “those sensitive issues are the thorniest issues that we’ve been discussing. Everybody’s trying to do a fine job of figuring out the finer details of this, but nothing’s done.”
McHenry has also confirmed that no face-to-face meetings with the White House negotiating team had been arranged for Thursday. However, he doesn’t view this as a sign that talks have stalled. Instead, both teams are working on the set of things that they need to work on.
Fresh sense of urgency
Thursday’s talks have been imbued with a fresh sense of urgency after Fitch credit rating agency announced that it was placing the United States’ triple-A status on “rating watch negative.” The agency also strongly implied that if Congress failed to reach a deal before the Treasury Department’s June 1 deadline to raise or suspend the debt limit, Fitch would downgrade America’s credit rating.
Despite the time pressure, one influential Republican, Rep. Kevin Hern of Oklahoma, who chairs the 156-member Republican Study Committee, expressed optimism about reaching a deal before the holiday weekend. Hern believes that it is “likely” a deal will be reached by Friday afternoon.
Another sign that a deal may be near was a set of additional demands on House Speaker Kevin McCarthy from the most conservative bloc of House Republicans. On Thursday, 35 of McCarthy’s most vocal critics in the House GOP released a letter urging him to abandon the current talks and issue a new slate of much more polarizing demands.
The House Freedom Caucus members urged McCarthy to use the threat of an unprecedented debt default as leverage to force the White House to agree to a short-term debt ceiling extension through June. They also called for the additional time to secure more concessions from the White House, including a border and immigration bill, and to mount a campaign to discredit Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. However, the letter offered no indication of how any of these propositions could pass the Democratic-controlled Senate, a necessary step to becoming law.
It’s not just Republicans who showed signs of internal strife this week. House Democrats have grown increasingly critical of the White House’s apparent choice not to divulge details of the talks on a regular basis. In contrast, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has been conducting a full-court PR press of chatting with journalists several times a day and appearing on TV nearly daily.
The White House has sought to deflect the criticism and says President Joe Biden has been speaking about the debt ceiling for months. The White House has been very clear for the past five months, according to White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.
Despite the recent criticism, the White House remains optimistic about reaching a bipartisan agreement. President Biden believes that “the only way to move forward is with a bipartisan agreement, and I believe we’ll come to an agreement that allows us to move forward and protects the hardworking Americans of this country.”
Despite the time pressure, there appears to be progress in the U.S. debt ceiling negotiations. Both sides have expressed cautious optimism about reaching a bipartisan agreement, although delicate and thorny issues remain. The negotiations are also complicated by additional demands from the most conservative bloc of House Republicans and growing criticism from House Democrats about the White House’s apparent lack of transparency. However, the White House remains optimistic about reaching a deal before the June 1 deadline.
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