- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 21, 2023

ORLANDO, Fla. — House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said he is ready to make a deal but is waiting for President Biden to invite him to negotiations to raise the nation’s soon-to-expire borrowing limit.

House Republicans meeting at a Florida resort this week huddled on legislation that could be used in a debt ceiling trade-off, including a measure to ramp up domestic energy production and provisions in a yet-to-be-written measure to secure the porous southern border.

The Republican House majority faces Democratic opposition to virtually their entire agenda, but Mr. McCarthy is plotting a way to shoehorn some priorities into the must-pass measure to raise the debt limit.

Mr. McCarthy, speaking to reporters at the retreat, said he won’t simply greenlight an increase in the nation’s $31.4 trillion debt limit. It is set to expire this summer, and the Treasury needs an act of Congress to increase the limit so it can pay all the nation’s bills.

He said the nation’s staggering debt has cranked up inflation that contributed to the recent collapses of several regional banks. The borrowing limit should not be simply increased without provisions aimed at decreasing spending and lowering inflation, he said.

“Why are we having a banking crisis? Because government spent too much and created inflation,” Mr. McCarthy said. “So should I ignore it? Should we do exactly what the president is saying, [to] just lift the debt ceiling and create more inflation and more banking problems? This should be a wake-up call.”

SEE ALSO: White House launches full court press against House Freedom Caucus’ debt ceiling demands

House Republicans are ready to make trade-offs to raise the borrowing limit, and Mr. McCarthy told reporters he conveyed that message to Mr. Biden last week at the annual St. Patrick’s Day luncheon in the Capitol. He pitched to Mr. Biden a bill that the House plans to take up in the coming weeks to expedite the permitting process for energy infrastructure projects across the nation.

Some of the provisions in the House energy bill could be part of the must-pass debt ceiling increase, Mr. McCarthy suggested to Mr. Biden.

“There are a lot of positive things we can do,” Mr. McCarthy said he told the president. “There are things we can do legislatively that could play into a debt ceiling deal. So I was trying to show him a lot of options and things that could get done.”

Border security or work requirements for those receiving federal aid also could be part of the negotiation. Mr. McCarthy said work requirements would increase productivity and help alleviate supply chain problems.

Republicans haven’t advanced border security legislation that would win the approval of the entire conference, but the party’s lawmakers are eager to secure the southern border and do more to keep out fentanyl, which is killing hundreds of Americans every day.

Republican lawmakers are discussing border security at the conference in Orlando and are working on measures that will be announced in the coming weeks. Those provisions also could be part of a debt ceiling deal, Republicans said.

“If he wanted to do something about securing the border, that would stop 300 Americans from dying today and dying tomorrow and dying the next day,” Mr. McCarthy said. “All I’m saying is from my perspective, looking back, Republicans are being very rational, sensible. And I look at everyone across this country, and they think we should get to work and work this out.”

Mr. Biden assured Mr. McCarthy that the two would soon sit down and talk about a debt ceiling deal, but the speaker said he has not heard from the president since their St. Patrick’s Day lunch in a crowded room at the Capitol.

“He said, ‘Yeah, we’ll get together,’” Mr. McCarthy said. “He says that all the time.”

House Republicans and Mr. Biden have roughly three months to strike a deal.

The Treasury has implemented temporary measures to stave off default, but those provisions expire in June. Biden officials have said the conditions for lifting the debt ceiling are “non-negotiable,” and Mr. Biden said he told Mr. McCarthy that the two will not sit down and talk until Republicans produce a 2024 budget plan.

Republicans have yet to coalesce around such a plan, and different factions have pitched proposals. The House Freedom Caucus is demanding dramatic spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt limit.

Mr. McCarthy said he rejected Mr. Biden’s terms for a sit-down on the debt ceiling at the luncheon last week.

“He said something about our budget, and I said, ‘Do you just want to play the budget game? Or do you want to sit down? Because I know exactly where we can talk,’” Mr. McCarthy said about the conversation.

He told Mr. Biden that his position hasn’t changed and Republicans would not take up a clean debt limit increase, nor would they back a proposal by Mr. Biden to bail out Medicare with tax increases.

Come to the table and talk about a few Republican proposals, he told the president.

“I always bring up different ideas,” Mr. McCarthy said.

• Susan Ferrechio can be reached at sferrechio@washingtontimes.com.

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