President Joe Biden on Wednesday blasted Republican-demanded spending cuts as “devastating,” making his case in a campaign-style speech to voters as lawmakers met in Washington on raising the government’s borrowing limit to avoid a potentially catastrophic U.S. default. The president is showing an increased willingness to discuss possible budget restraints, yet he insisted anew that any talks on that should occur without the risk of the federal government being unable to pay its bills.
“America is the strongest economy in the world, but we should be cutting spending and lowering the deficit without a needless crisis,” Biden said Wednesday.
His words were a challenge to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who met Tuesday with Biden at the White House, declaring afterward that sharp spending cuts were required for House Republicans to increase the debt limit and stave off the risk of default.
Biden laid into that GOP proposal on Wednesday in Valhalla, New York, saying spending cuts recently passed by the Republican House could hurt schools and the country’s “sacred” obligations to military veterans.
Wednesday’s events marked a preview of what the coming 18 months will look like for Biden as he performs his presidential duties while also trying to boost his political position ahead of the 2024 election. He went to a region represented by first-term Republican Rep. Mike Lawler, whose district Biden won in 2020. Yet the president was gracious to the congressman, saying that Lawler is “the kind of Republican I was used to dealing with.”
Biden used the trip to trumpet recent economic progress — pointing to the 12.7 million jobs created during his term and a fresh focus on domestic manufacturing — while warning that an unprecedented debt default would threaten millions of jobs and raise the prospect of a recession.
Back in Washington, senior White House officials and congressional aides were starting to discuss a path to avert a painful debt default that could come as soon as June 1, in preparation for another meeting between Biden and top Capitol Hill leaders on Friday. But McCarthy showed few signs that he and House Republicans were willing to budge from their debt limit proposal, and Biden underscored again that their plan was a non-starter with him.
“He’s proposed deep cuts that I believe will hurt American families,” Biden told reporters Tuesday after his meeting with McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Biden raised the specter of cuts to veterans’ care, an issue that has become particularly sensitive in the back-and-forth rhetoric between the White House and congressional Republicans. When the president suggested during the meeting on Tuesday that the House GOP plan could end up cutting benefits to veterans, McCarthy told reporters that he shot back that was a “lie.” But Biden disputed that it was a lie, saying that the across-the-board cuts would affect veterans’ care and other vital domestic programs.
The faceoff comes as the government is rapidly bumping up against its legal borrowing authority, meaning that it may not be able to pay its bills as early as the start of next month unless lawmakers agree to lift the limit.
Biden is also scheduled to spend a week abroad on a trip to Japan, Australia and Papua New Guinea later this month. He said postponing his travel is “possible but not likely.”
With debt talks showing minimal progress, the White House hopes that Biden’s public relations campaign — starting in a congressional district that will be key for Democrats seeking to wrest House control back from Republicans next year — increases pressure on GOP lawmakers who can’t afford politically to alienate moderate voters.
Rep. Lawler, as one of 18 House Republicans hailing from a congressional district won by Biden, is a prime target for the White House.
Still, Lawler accepted the invitation from the White House, “maybe to their surprise,” the lawmaker said in an interview Tuesday. He said it was a “little disappointing” that Biden was spending his time traveling to his district rather than negotiating with other leaders in Washington.
“Nobody wants to see us default. Nobody wants to see us not raise the debt limit. But they also don’t want to see us continue to spend money that we don’t have,” Lawler said. “When I’m out talking to folks in my community, my district, by and large they agree with my stance.”
Despite Lawler’s presence at the event, at Westchester Community College, Biden is “always going to be honest with the American people,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday.
House Republicans, in their debt measure that passed in April, are aiming for $4.5 trillion in deficit savings through cuts in spending, eliminating tax breaks for investing in clean energy, and undoing the Biden administration’s proposal that would forgive student loan debt. The White House has made it clear that Biden would veto that legislation.
Democrats, who control the Senate by 51-49, are calling for a “clean” debt limit hike without any conditions such as spending cuts, but any such measure would require the support of at least nine Republican senators, and most of them say they will oppose doing so.
While in New York on Wednesday, Biden, who formalized his reelection campaign on April 25, also was holding a pair of fundraisers.
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