WASHINGTON – House Republicans are demanding deep spending cuts in exchange for raising the nation’s borrowing limit this year, but they have suggested that President Joe Biden and Democrats must specify exactly what to cut in the federal budget.
“If Washington is spending too much money, isn’t there some money that President Biden can identify that is wasted in Washington?” Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the No. 2 House Republican, said Wednesday.
Republicans’ refusal to lay out a detailed plan to tackle the debt is a result of the many internal divisions within the narrow GOP majority in the House, as well as reluctance to propose cuts to popular domestic programs, including Social Security and Medicare.
Instead of proposing the spending cuts they want to see, Republicans complained this week about Biden’s refusal to negotiate on the debt ceiling, something they raised three times under President Donald Trump without difficulty. With a deadline to act in June, the debt ceiling debate has kicked off with a debate about negotiating ― and which side is more responsible.
“I think we have to be sensible and we have to take responsibility. We need to have a responsible debt ceiling, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Tuesday. “I want to look the president in the eye [and hear him] tell me there isn’t one dollar of wasteful spending in government?”
Democrats, meanwhile, counter that the party demanding cuts should determine which programs get the ax — something Republicans are reluctant to do because they know they will be hit with it on the campaign trail for the next two years.
“GOP Threatens Cuts. Well, What Are They?” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.) asked in a speech Wednesday. “Why the evasion? Why is your conference hiding from the American people? House Republicans: Where are your cards?
The White House has indicated that Biden will meet with McCarthy in the coming weeks to discuss the debt limit and other legislative business.
The debt ceiling is a legal limit, set by Congress, for how much money the Treasury can borrow. Failure to raise the cap could cause the federal government to miss payments to bondholders and even Social Security recipients, potentially triggering a financial crisis and recession.
Republicans have suggested that they would like to see deep spending cuts, but also that they would like to spare the military. The vast majority of federal spending outside of defense is in popular entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.
But Republicans have been vague about whether they would seriously pursue entitlement reforms. McCarthy has simply said that Republicans will “always protect Medicare and Social Security.“
In 2011, with Republicans similarly holding the debt ceiling hostage, Congress ended up settling for short-term caps on “discretionary spending,” meaning limits on funding for federal agencies and no changes to popular pension programs. After the federal government came close to defaulting, then-President Barack Obama vowed not to renegotiate the debt limit. As the next deadline approached in 2013, Obama held firm and The Republicans blinked.
But the Obama administration had been open to a “grand bargain” with Republicans that would have combined spending and benefits in programs like Social Security to reduce federal budget deficits. Biden even served as Obama’s emissary in one of several ad hoc negotiating groups.
McCarthy recalled Wednesday that Biden had once been more open to negotiations.
“This is not even past Joe Biden’s behavior,” McCarthy said. “When Joe Biden was Vice President [they even called them] ‘Biden is talking.'” He praised the idea of negotiating together.”
When running for president in 2020, Biden repudiated his past deficit spending and proposed closing a future funding gap in Social Security solely by using taxes on higher incomes. And Biden’s White House hasn’t shown much openness to a new grand deal.
The dispute over the debt limit is still in its early stages, with both sides facing an upcoming showdown between Biden and McCarthy. Republicans have yet to agree on a specific request in return for raising the debt ceiling, but they have thrown out general ideas such as a balanced budget amendment and a $100 billion cap on discretionary spending in coming years.
“Exactly what they are, we’re not willing to put out today. We’re going to do that in consultation with the House,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) told reporters when asked what he and other Senate conservatives specifically want to eliminate in the budget.
“I’m not going to buy into the Democrats’ narrative. I know they’re having a lot of fun with this,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) added after a similar question.
Late. John Kennedy (R-La.) offered a specific idea: cutting funding for food stamps and Medicaid recipients who do not have children and who are not disabled. Kennedy said the proposal would save $75 billion a year, or about one-tenth of one percent of the federal budget over that time.
But Sen. Lindsey Graham (R.C.) said he was confident both Biden and House Republicans would eventually hash out their differences in upcoming debt ceiling negotiations.
“We eventually have to say, ‘Here’s what we want,'” Graham said.