White House officials took an adversarial posture toward House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) ahead of his Wednesday meeting with President Joe Biden about the debt ceiling and possible spending cuts.
The two officials are slated to meet after the debt ceiling, an arbitrary cap on the national debt established by Congress, exceeded its statutory limit, provoking renewed calls among House Republicans to balance the budget. National Economic Council Director Brian Deese and Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young said in a memorandum that Biden would ask McCarthy whether he will commit to preventing a default on the national debt.
“As the President has said many times, the United States must never default on its financial obligations,” the memo said. “Raising the debt ceiling is not a negotiation; it is an obligation of this country and its leaders to avoid economic chaos. Speaker McCarthy’s unwillingness to-date to taking the threat of default off the table makes him an outlier, including among current and former leaders of his own party.”
McCarthy repeated multiple times during a Sunday interview with CBS News that the federal government would not default on obligations. The memo nevertheless cited statements from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) indicating his refusal to allow a debt default, as well as past statements from President Donald Trump and President Ronald Reagan in which they committed to preserve the nation’s high credit rating.
Biden will also press McCarthy on when Republicans will release their budget proposals. The memo implied that the budget would include reductions to Social Security and Medicare, as well as “cuts to research, education, and public safety,” even though McCarthy stressed during the CBS News interview that Social Security and Medicare would remain “off the table” in the negotiations. The memo was dated January 30, which was one day after the interview.
“On March 9, President Biden will release his budget. The budget will show how the President plans to invest in America, continue to lower costs for families, protect and strengthen Social Security and Medicare, and reduce the deficit with tables and numbers showing exactly how his economic and fiscal policies add up to achieve these goals,” the memo continued. “Speaker McCarthy has said that reducing the deficit is a top priority for him and his Caucus. So far, however, House Republicans have offered up detailed plans to increase the deficit with tax policies that would benefit the wealthiest Americans.”
The refusal from both Biden and McCarthy to address Social Security and Medicare has raised questions regarding whether meaningful spending reductions will be possible. The two programs constituted 46% of the federal budget during the last fiscal year alongside other health initiatives, according to data from the Treasury Department.
Social Security has long been considered the third rail of American politics: the vast majority of citizens have historically indicated that they want benefits from the program retained with no reductions, even as nearly half are concerned about continued funding for the program, according to data from Gallup. In order to balance the budget while exempting defense, veteran benefits, Social Security, and Medicare from cuts, all other federal spending would have to be reduced 85%, according to an analysis from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.