Debt Limit Talks Inch Forward, But Key Hurdles Remain

Sources familiar with the negotiations expect discussions to drag into the holiday weekend


The White House and House Republicans were narrowing in on an agreement to lift the debt ceiling on Friday, but discussions are expected to stretch into the holiday weekend, with government spending levels and work requirements for social safety net programs remaining as two of the final and most significant roadblocks.

While House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said that negotiations had made progress, two sources familiar with the talks said they did not expect a deal to be struck Friday. Negotiators for both parties are meeting virtually and over the phone throughout the day, as they continue to hammer out details.

“I want to be clear. We continue to have major issues that we have not bridged the gap on yet," said Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), one of McCarthy's negotiators.

One source familiar with the talks said White House negotiators are close to achieving a two-year debt limit extension. Republicans have pushed for spending cuts as part of any deal, while the White House has offered to freeze spending at current levels. Negotiators are reportedly looking at imposing a two-year cap on discretionary spending.

Another source familiar with the negotiations said details were still fluid, but that military and veterans funding was not expected to be cut.

"It's really coming down to one thing, this has been about spending," McCarthy said as he entered the Capitol on Friday.

Aside from federal funding levels, negotiators are still at an impasse over enacting stricter work requirements for some welfare programs.

Asked about the possibility of dropping work requirements from the deal, Graves said: “Hell no. Not a chance.”

The hold-up comes as lawmakers are pressed against a tight deadline to get a bill through Congress and to the president's desk. They received a little breathing room late Friday afternoon, when Treasury Secretary Janey Yellen wrote in a letter to Congress that the government will be unable to pay its bills starting June 5. Previously, she had said that would occur as early as June 1.

“There is forward progress, but each time there’s forward progress, the issues that remain become more difficult and more challenging," said Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), another one of McCarthy's negotiators. "So that is step by step, small step by small step. At some point this thing can come together or go the other way.”

McCarthy also brushed aside criticism he has started to face from conservative members of his conference who have pushed for more concessions from the White House.

“You’re talking to people who don’t know what’s in the deal,” McCarthy said. “I’m not concerned about anybody making any comments right now about what they think is in or not in. Whenever we come to an agreement, we’ll make sure we first brief our entire conference.”

Most lawmakers left Washington on Thursday to head home for Memorial Day Weekend. President Joe Biden is expected to head to Camp David this weekend.

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