McCarthy meeting with Biden as Hill agenda ramps up

By Kelsey Brugger | 01/30/2023 06:19 AM EST

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) addressed concerns Sunday about the debt ceiling and spending cuts. He’ll meet with President Joe Biden this week.

Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) leaving the Capitol on Friday. Francis Chung/POLITICO

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is talking up the prospects of a deal with President Joe Biden and Democrats on spending cuts and raising the debt ceiling ahead of a meeting between the two leaders Wednesday.

The California Republican appeared for an extended interview on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday as both the House and Senate ramp up their work for the 118th Congress, including on energy and the environment.

“I think the President is going to be willing to make an agreement together,” said McCarthy about spending and the debt ceiling, perhaps the most contentious issue facing the newly divided Congress.


“This is what he’s always done in the past,” he said. “And if he listens to the American public, more than 74 percent believe we need to sit down and find ways to eliminate this wasteful spending in Washington.”

Lawmakers and the Biden administration must figure out a plan to address the debt limit by June, when the Treasury Department says it may run out of tools to keep paying the country’s bills. Gridlock on Capitol Hill could lead to an unprecedented default.

The Republican right, empowered by the House’s razor-thin GOP majority, are eager to extract concessions from Democrats and the president, and they are working to shape the narrative early in the year.

‘Eliminate waste’

McCarthy said he wanted to “eliminate waste, wherever it is” — including at agencies like EPA and the Interior Department, but also not ruling out the Pentagon. The speaker said Republicans are willing to “find a reasonable and responsible way to get this done.”

White House aides have repeatedly said the debt ceiling is not up for negotiation. The president’s press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, has stressed it is up to Congress raise the debt ceiling, fulfilling “their duty once again.”

McCarthy suggested the president and his staff may not be of the same mindset. The speaker recalled when then-Vice President Joe Biden helped negotiate a debt ceiling and spending deal with the House GOP more than a decade ago.

McCarthy did not rule out a short-term extension of the debt ceiling to give negotiations more time. But Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), appearing on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures” stressed the importance of acting now to put the U.S. “on a better economic footing.”

Republicans have resisted saying what they would cut. McCarthy on Sunday ruled out reductions to Social Security and Medicare. Those entitlements, plus defense, make up the vast majority of federal outlays.

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, said his party’s top concern was “the approach that the radical MAGA extremists in the Republican Conference want to take and McCarthy is willing to go along with, which is to shut down the government.”

But Foreign Affairs Chair Michael McCaul (R-Texas) told Fox News “Sunday” that “I don’t think we’re going to see a shutdown. [McCarthy’s] going to meet with the president; [he] wants a reasonable debt ceiling to counter, you know, irresponsible government spending.”

McCaul also cautioned not to reduce defense spending “at such a dangerous time in our history,” a nod to the Ukraine war and tensions with China.

Agenda outlook

Drama over spending and the debt ceiling is playing out as Congress works to prepare for the new session. The House and Senate were still doling out committee assignments and leadership slots last week (E&E Daily, Jan 27). Inaugural hearings are planned for this week.

The Senate last week confirmed Brendan Owens for assistant secretary of Defense for energy, installations and environment, but it has otherwise not conducted much business. The chamber will likely soon focus on nominees.

The Senate Judiciary Committee delayed voting on a roster of appeals and district court picks, including Bradley Garcia for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and Anthony Johnstone for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That markup will now happen Thursday.

The House has taken up high-profile but relatively simple bills so far. On Friday, Republicans passed H.R. 21, from Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), which would make releases from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve contingent on plans for new drilling (E&E News PM, Jan. 27).

Committees, however, will soon start work on broader energy, environment and permitting legislation. Indeed, a new letter obtained by POLITICO led by the American Conservation Coalition Action, with signatories including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, expressed support for the GOP’s plans as a climate solution (E&E Daily, Jan. 24).

Rogers told E&E News last week, “We believe that our energy solutions are climate solutions, and that addressing climate change is absolutely a prime priority.”