WASHINGTON — Republicans returned to the debt ceiling negotiating table Friday night after temporarily pausing talks with the White House that they said were “not productive.”
The movement came about seven hours after Rep. Garret Graves, R-La, who was tapped by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to lead the negotiations with White House staff, told reporters “we decided to press pause” because their morning meeting was “just not productive.”
Graves declined at the time to comment on details of the negotiations, but said the administration was being “unreasonable” as the clock ticks to the June 1 deadline set by the Treasury Department to act or risk a calamitous default on U.S. debt.
Debt limit talks set to restart as Biden meets with G-7 alliesMay 19, 202304:15
After meeting with White House officials on Capitol Hill for about 90 minutes Friday night, Graves told reporters they had "a candid discussion about realistic numbers, a realistic path forward, and something that truly changes the trajectory of this country’s spending and debt problem.”
Asked if the evening’s discussions yielded any progress, Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, another GOP negotiator, said, "No." He also said they weren't confident they will be able to reach a deal before the end of the month.
Steve Ricchetti, one of three White House aides President Joe Biden designated to represent him in talks with McCarthy, told reporters, “We’re going to keep working tonight,” adding they are leaving the building “for the time being.”
It was not immediately clear when the two sides would meet again.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, speaking to reporters in Japan, said the administration was “optimistic” about a path forward. But she also acknowledged “serious differences” with Republicans.
“This is going to continue to be a difficult conversation,” she said.
Part of the hang-up in negotiations is that House Republicans want to force major spending cuts that are opposed by Biden and dead on arrival in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
"It is very frustrating if they want to come into the room and think we’re going to spend more money next year than the year we did this year. That’s not right. And that’s not going to happen," McCarthy said Friday night on Fox Business.
Earlier in the day he said there hasn't been enough “movement” from the White House, adding that he had spoken to Graves that day but not to the president, who is attending a Group of Seven summit in Japan.
A White House spokesperson said Friday that “a responsible, bipartisan budget agreement remains possible if both sides negotiate in good faith and recognize that neither side will get everything it wants.”
“There are real differences between the parties on budget issues and talks will be difficult,” the spokesperson added. “The president’s team is working hard towards a reasonable bipartisan solution that can pass the House and the Senate.”
Democrats are reluctant to accept a spending limit that's lower than current levels, a source familiar with the party's stance said. The party may prefer to maintain existing levels, even if it means a new spending deal fails and the government runs on autopilot through a continuing resolution.
There is a push, according to a Democratic source familiar with the negotiations, to pass a short-term spending resolution at the same time as a debt limit hike through early 2025. That would give McCarthy what he’s wanted all along: moving those two issues in tandem — while the White House and Democrats, who initially demanded a “clean” debt hike, can save face by claiming the negotiation is about the budget.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said earlier this week, "Avoiding default should not be contingent on passing the GOP’s hard right partisan agenda."
Congress must act in the coming weeks or the U.S. could breach the debt ceiling as soon as June 1, the Treasury Department has warned.
A source familiar with the negotiations said hardline conservatives were pleased by Friday's pause in talks with the White House.
“The fact they are doing this shows they are still willing to walk away,” the source said, adding there had been concerns that McCarthy's team had not been focusing on their core issue.
"The cuts are what matter," the source said.
Meanwhile, a GOP aide said conservatives “are privately seething" at how the talks have been going and that "Republicans are giving away their leverage.”
On Thursday, the conservative Freedom Caucus issued a statement saying the House-passed debt bill represents the formal position of the bloc of roughly 30 hard-right House Republicans.
Former President Donald Trump, who's urged Republicans to let the default happen if their demands aren't met, reiterated that call on his social media website Friday.
"REPUBLICANS SHOULD NOT MAKE A DEAL ON THE DEBT CEILING UNLESS THEY GET EVERYTHING THEY WANT (Including the 'kitchen sink')," Trump, the leading Republican presidential candidate, wrote on Truth Social. "THAT’S THE WAY THE DEMOCRATS HAVE ALWAYS DEALT WITH US. DO NOT FOLD!!!"