House lawmakers are leaving Washington for the long holiday weekend Thursday afternoon — just one week before the Treasury Department says the U.S. is at risk of a debt default — without a deal to raise the debt ceiling.
Negotiators say they’re getting closer to striking a deal to avert a default next week, but an agreement didn’t appear imminent Thursday.
Leaving the Capitol Thursday night, McCarthy said the two sides had not yet reached an agreement.
“We’ve been talking to the White House all day, we’re going back and forth, and it’s not easy,” he said. “We want to make sure this is an agreement worthy of the American people, and so it takes a while to make it happen and we’re working hard to make it happen.”
The Speaker said he will be working from the Capitol this weekend.
“The update here is that the work continues. I think there’s a sense of understanding from both teams that we have serious issues still to work out and come to terms with, and that’s gonna take some time. That’s all there is to it,” Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), a key ally of Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and negotiator in spending talks with the White House, said as he walked into McCarthy’s office earlier.
Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) speaks to reporters concerning the debt ceiling negotiations on the steps of the Capitol, Thursday, May 25, 2023.
At the same time, Democrats have been piling the criticism onto House GOP leaders for greenlighting the scheduled recess with the fiscal deadline looming.
“It’s just the weirdest thing to be going home in the middle of an impending disaster,” Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.) told The Hill on Thursday.
House GOP leaders said Wednesday that members could leave as scheduled Thursday but should be prepared to return to the Capitol to vote on legislation to raise the debt limit with 24 hours notice.
Tensions are beginning to reach a fever pitch on both sides, as liberals and conservatives alike fret about what concessions a final agreement will contain.
More on the debt ceiling from The Hill:
While Democratic leaders face increased calls from their members to reject GOP-backed spending cuts, hard-line conservatives have pressed their leadership to remain firm in its efforts to achieve significant reforms.
The bill passed by House Republicans last month would raise the debt limit through next March, at the latest, in exchange for capping government funding for fiscal 2024 at fiscal 2022 levels and limiting spending grown to 1 percent each year for a decade, along with a host of other conservative priorities.
Both sides have indicated, however, that a final bipartisan agreement will likely be much narrower in scope, as leaders focus on areas such as work requirements for social safety net programs, unallocated coronavirus funding and spending caps.
McCarthy has expressed confidence that the final deal would be able to notch significant support within his conference, and the party is largely unified behind the leader’s strategy in talks.
Rep. Marc Molinaro, R-N.Y., right, waves next to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., as members of Congress leave the House for Memorial Day weekend, Thursday, May 25, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
But there are concerns from some conservatives about what the final deal will look like.
In comments to reporters Thursday, Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) applauded the Speaker and GOP negotiators for their work leading talks for the Republican side over the past few weeks. But he also cautioned against the party taking an “exit ramp five exits too early.”
A group of 35 House Freedom Caucus members and allies, meanwhile, released a letter Thursday calling for McCarthy to push for additional conservative priorities, demanding to see how Treasury Department Secretary Janet Yellen determined a default could come on June 1 and suggesting passing COVID-19 funding clawbacks and repealing an IRS funding boost as a way to push back the deadline.
On the other side of the aisle, Democrats are also locking arms behind President Biden amid negotiations. However, there are questions about how much Democratic support the debt limit deal will be able to muster, as liberals come out in strong opposition to tougher work requirements for federal assistance programs and reduced nondefense funding.
“I think the president has been trying to talk to them, but time is running out,” Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said this week.
“He won the White House because of a diverse vibrant coalition across the country and particularly in key states,” Jayapal said. “What we’ve said to the White House is to understand that we need to make sure that our vibrant, diverse coalition, represented by so many of the members in the Progressive Caucus, continue to be enthusiastic.”
Heading into the recess, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) accused Republicans of threatening to tank the economy because they think it might hurt Biden and the Democrats politically.
Democrats “are unified in working to avoid a dangerous default, which is what extreme MAGA Republicans are clearly determined to bring about,” Jeffries said, “because they have concluded that if they crash the economy, it will benefit them politically.
“That’s a sick way of thinking.”
Mychael Schnell, Mike Lillis and Hanna Trudo contributed. Updated at 6:54 p.m.