There’s a lot of wishful thinking seeping into Capitol Hill that Friday could see a long-elusive bipartisan agreement on the debt ceiling, with the default deadline in just six days. GOP negotiators didn’t sound overly optimistic Thursday night.
Gloomy and exhausted speaker Kevin McCarthy offered this to reporters outside his office on Thursday night: “We don’t have an agreement yet. We knew this wouldn’t be easy. It’s hard, but we’re working and we’ll keep working until we get this done.”
A major sticking point, according to fellow Republican negotiator Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), continues to strengthen work requirements for certain safety net programs.
“The White House continues to prioritize paying people not to work over paying Social Security benefits and Medicare benefits,” Graves said. “Their efforts jeopardize the very benefits for seniors like Medicare and Social Security because they refuse to negotiate work requirements.”
Still, there are some significant positive signs that House and White House Republicans are making real progress. The two sides have almost completed the spending portion of the talks, a source familiar with the talks told POLITICO late Thursday night. And as one Republican negotiator recently said, the rest of the deal should fall into place pretty quickly once those limits are locked in.
The negotiators also appear to have agreed on the following areas, based on a leaked list that a Republican familiar with the issue said came from the leaders:
An agreement to lift the debt limit until 2024
A procedure incentivizes Congress to pass all 12 annual spending bills;
A plan to reclaim unused Covid money;
And two-year spending ceilings that freeze non-defense spending somewhere below fiscal year 2023 levels, while defense spending gets a slight boost.
However, it may take some time before the actual legislation is adopted. Hill aides will have to turn any agreement into legislative text, and then, once a bill is introduced, House GOP leaders have committed to waiting 72 hours before a vote can be taken — part of the deal McCarthy struck with conservatives to win the gavel.
In that scenario, negotiators will have to close a deal Friday or Saturday to get a bill through the House before the earliest possible default date on Thursday.
And then there is the Senate. No one expects the House to pass the bill unanimously – especially afterwards Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) promised to delay the process — meaning it could take the upper chamber up to three days to approve the legislation before it goes to President Joe Biden’s desk. If June 1 is the actual default date, which Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will likely give more guidance on next week, that could be a huge problem.
Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) said Thursday that he hopes all Democrats can support any legislation that emerges from the negotiations, but he wasn’t sure.
“It depends on what’s in it. It’s rare that we really get every vote for absolutely everything. But this has to be one that you trust our president,” he said.
Jordain Carney contributed to this report.