WASHINGTON, May 27, 2023 (BSS/AFP) - President Joe Biden said Friday that
Democratic and Republican negotiators were on the verge of resolving a debt
ceiling standoff, as the deadline for a potentially catastrophic US default
was pushed back to June 5.
"It's very close and I'm optimistic," Biden told reporters at the White
House. "I'm hopeful we'll know by tonight whether we're going to be able to
have a deal."
Although there was no indication of an imminent public announcement, it was
the strongest sign yet that the drama in Washington might end, allowing the
government to borrow and avoid a default that would likely trigger a
recession and send shockwaves through the global economy.
Earlier, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the dreaded X-date, when the
government runs out of money unless it can borrow, will now be June 5, not
June 1. Yellen, however, warned that the deadline extension does not change
"Waiting until the last minute to suspend or increase the debt limit can
cause serious harm to business and consumer confidence, raise short-term
borrowing costs for taxpayers, and negatively impact the credit rating of the
United States," she said in a letter to the Republican leader of the House of
Representatives, Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
According to unconfirmed US media reports, the deal taking shape would
include an agreement to extend the government's borrowing authority for two
years, meaning no repeat of the current drama before the 2024 presidential
Democrats, however, would have to offer concessions on Republican demands for
sweeping spending limits on social safety and other domestic programs.
McCarthy told reporters that negotiators had "made progress" but added:
"Nothing is agreed to until it's all agreed to."
A sign of how difficult it may be to nail down a deal revolved around a
Republican demand that those applying for benefits like food assistance work
White House spokesman Andrew Bates asserted that Republicans were willing to
put at risk "over eight million jobs unless they can take food out of the
mouths of hungry Americans."
IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva cited new data that she said
showed the "US economy has proven resilient," but urged a "speedy resolution"
to avoid the first default in the country's history.
"We think of the US Treasury market as an anchor for the global financial
system, and this anchor needs to hold," she said.
- Hostage-taking accusation -
With the country getting a three-day Memorial Day holiday weekend, members of
Congress were leaving Washington on a 10-day recess. Even Biden -- to the
consternation of some in his own party -- headed to his Camp David retreat,
then his home in Delaware.
Yet Wally Adeyemo, the deputy Treasury secretary, told CNN that both Biden
and McCarthy were focused on avoiding catastrophe.
"The president decided, the speaker has said it, and we have to get something
done before June," Adeyemo said. "The president is committed to making sure
that we have good faith negotiations with the Republicans to reach a deal,
because the alternative is catastrophic for all Americans."
The debt ceiling raise is an annual accounting maneuver that usually passes
with little notice. It simply allows the government to keep borrowing money
to pay for bills already incurred through the budget.
This year, the increasingly hard-right Republican Party has decided to turn
the debt ceiling into leverage to force Biden to roll back favorite
Democratic spending priorities.
Republicans call this taking responsibility for the $31 trillion national
debt. The White House accuses the opposition party, which controls the House
of Representatives, of taking the economy hostage.
- Military warning -
Democratic minority leader Hakeem Jeffries slammed the Republicans from the
House floor on Thursday, accusing them of risking "a dangerous default in a
crisis that they've created."
Economists have spent months raising the prospect of economic catastrophe
should the government default, and top military brass added their own dire
prognosis Thursday, warning that the crisis would have a "significant
negative impact" on troops.
"Readiness clearly would be impacted," Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, told reporters.
McCarthy has said lawmakers on recess will get 24 hours' notice if they are
required to return for a vote.