President Joe Biden will not negotiate over the debt ceiling during his meeting with four top congressional leaders on May 9, but he will discuss starting “a separate budget process” to talk about spending priorities, the White House said on Tuesday.
Biden on Monday summoned the four Senate and House of Representatives leaders — two fellow Democrats and two Republicans — to the White House next week, after the U.S. Treasury warned the government could run short of cash to pay its bills as soon as June 1.
“He is not going to negotiate on the debt ceiling,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. But the president “is willing to have a separate conversation about their spending, what they want to do with the budget.”
The debt limit was increased three times under Republican former President Donald Trump without an issue, she added.
The White House and Biden have previously asked Republicans for a clean debt ceiling hike and offered to discuss spending once the risk of default is off the table. Biden’s position to discuss spending reflects a subtle shift in the White House’s position to have discussions even as the risk of default looms.
Treasury’s June 1 estimate raised the risk that the United States could be headed into an unprecedented default that would shake the global economy, adding urgency to political calculations in Washington, where Democrats and Republicans were girding for a months-long standoff.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a letter to Congress that the agency will be unlikely to meet all U.S. government payment obligations “potentially as early as June 1” without action by Congress.
The White House knew Yellen’s letter would be released on Monday, Jean-Pierre said. The president thought it was a “good opportunity to remind Congressional leaders that we must not default,” she said.
Biden called Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in Jerusalem, where he is on a diplomatic trip, to invite him to the May 9 White House meeting. The two leaders haven’t sat down to discuss the issue since February.
Jean-Pierre said “it is time for the speaker and the MAGA Republicans to stop the brinksmanship and act to prevent default.”
Biden also made calls to the minority leaders in the Senate and House, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell and House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries, and to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.