Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) defended using the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip to secure spending cuts in remarks Monday night, just ahead of President Biden’s State of the Union address to Congress on Tuesday.
“Debt limit debates have been used for nearly every successful attempt to reform federal spending in living history. Why? Because the problem only gets solved when both parties come to the table,” McCarthy said in the roughly 10-minute address on Monday evening.
He pointed out that Biden had opposed debt limit increases when he was a senator during debt ceiling fights two decades ago.
Biden and McCarthy met in the White House last week, after which the Speaker said it was possible to find “common ground” on the debt limit issue. But there has been no movement toward a deal yet, as the White House has called for a “clean” debt limit increase not tied to any other spending stipulations.
White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement ahead of McCarthy’s speech that Biden will use his State of the Union address to highlight deficit reduction measures included in legislation he has signed into law, including increasing taxes on big corporations, and dinged Republicans for passing Trump-era tax cuts that added to the debt.
“House Republicans are threatening to actively throw our economy into a tailspin with a default — which they have a non-negotiable, constitutional duty to prevent — unless they can further cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. It’s utterly backwards,” Bates said.
McCarthy refuted that line of messaging from the White House, saying that Republicans want a “responsible debt limit increase” and batting down worries about slashes to entitlement spending.
“We will preserve our ability to defend this nation [from] threats abroad,” McCarthy said. “Cuts to Medicare and Social Security — they are off the table.”
“Defaulting on our debt is not an option. But neither is a future of higher taxes, higher interest rates and an economy that doesn’t work for working Americans,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy said he will commit to continuing negotiating with Biden and to working toward finding “common ground” with a different approach.
“No drawing lines in the sand or saying it’s my way or the highway. No policy gimmicks or political games,” McCarthy. “But, most of all, no blank checks for runaway spending.”
After his address, however, McCarthy did draw one line in the sand: no tax increases.
“We’re not raising any taxes. I want to be very clear with that,” McCarthy told reporters.
Brett Samuels and Mychael Schnell contributed.