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Debt ceiling explained: Why it's a struggle in Washington and how the impasse could end
May 22

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy met Monday after a weekend of on again, off again negotiations over raising the nation's debt ceiling and mere days before the government could reach a "hard deadline" and run out of cash to pay its bills.

The two sides are working to reach a budget compromise before June 1, when Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said the country could default.

Speaking to reporters after Monday's meeting, McCarthy said the two sides had not yet reached an agreement but the meeting was "productive." In his own statement following the Oval Office sit-down, Biden echoed those sentiments.

"We reiterated once again that default is off the table and the only way to move forward is in good faith toward a bipartisan agreement," Biden said. Their handpicked negotiators will continue to meet.

McCarthy and Republicans are insisting on spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt limit. Biden has come to the negotiating table after balking for months but says the GOP lawmakers will have to back off their "extreme positions."

On Sunday evening, negotiators met again and appeared to be narrowing on a 2024 budget year cap that could resolve the standoff. After speaking with Biden by phone as the president traveled home from a trip to Asia, McCarthy sounded somewhat optimistic. But he warned that ''there's no agreement on anything."

A look at the negotiations and why they are happening:


Once a routine act by Congress, the vote to raise the debt ceiling allows the Treasury Department to continue borrowing money to pay the nation's already incurred bills.

The vote in more recent times has been used as a political leverage point, a must-pass bill that can be loaded up with other priorities.

House Republicans, newly empowered in the majority this Congress, are refusing to raise the debt limit unless Biden and the Democrats impose federal spending cuts and restrictions on future spending.

The Republicans say the nation's debt, now at $31 trillion, is unsustainable. They also want to attach other priorities, including stiffer work requirements on recipients of government cash aid, food stamps and the Medicaid health care program. Many Democrats oppose those requirements.

Biden had insisted on approving the debt ceiling with no strings attached, saying the U.S. always pays its bills and defaulting on debt is non-negotiable.

But facing a deadline as soon as June 1, when Treasury says it will run out of money, Biden launched negotiations with Republicans.


There are positive signs, though there have been rocky moments in the talks.

Start-stop negotiations were back on track late Sunday, and all sides appear to be racing toward a deal. Negotiators left the Capitol after 8 p.m. Sunday and said they would keep working.

McCarthy said after his call with Biden that "I think we can solve some of these problems if he understands what we're looking at."

The speaker added: ''We have to spend less money than we spent last year."

Biden, for his part, said at a press conference in Japan before departing: "I think that we can reach an agreement."

But reaching an agreement is only part of the challenge. Any deal will also have to pass the House and Senate with significant bipartisan support. Many expect that buy-in from the White House and GOP leadership will be enough to muscle it over the finish line.

By The Associated Press, Copyright 2023

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