House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said this week that he did not think Republicans and Democrats were close to reaching an agreement to raise the debt ceiling. President Biden said little in public. As the risk of default loomed, Republicans banded together and auctioned off a used cherry lip balm tube, which sold for six figures.
Welcome to the final week of “productive” negotiations in Washington, a city that has a whole glossary—cliffs and roofs and X-dates—of shorthand for its periodic dance with financial time bombs.
“Nothing binds Washington like a deadline,” said Eric Schultz, former White House deputy press secretary under President Barack Obama.
In recent days, talks have started, stopped, and started again as Biden, McCarthy and their negotiating teams worked to hammer out a plan. So far, there are few details: “We both agree that we want to be able to reach an agreement,” McCarthy told reporters Monday after leaving his White House meeting with the president.
Both men appear intent on preventing their relationship from falling into scorched earth territory, though they remain far apart on the details of reaching an agreement before June 1, when Treasury indicated the government could run out of money to pay its bills. accounts.
That’s a week away, practically an eternity by Washington saga standards.
And lest anyone think that the lack of a breakthrough was a sign of intransigence, laziness or typical government dysfunction, both sides insisted that everyone involved agreed that they wanted to agree. In a divided Washington, this is what passes for progress.
McCarthy said the meeting with the president had been “productive.” Not only that, it had been “better than any time we’ve had discussions.”
Mr. Biden, in a short statement after the meeting, also used the word “productive.” Nothing had changed by the following afternoon, when White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre would repeat it one more time: “The meeting the president had with the speaker yesterday was very productive,” she said.
Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, who has shown little willingness to join productivity, weighed in from his home state of Kentucky: “Everyone needs to relax,” he told reporters.
“The last 10 times we raised the debt ceiling, there were things attached to it,” he said, referring to concessions or compromises that are usually, but not always, agreed upon. “This is not that unusual. It is almost completely required when the government has been divided.”
According to the White House, saying this was not very productive.
“What is unusual is that our economy and the American economy are being held hostage and connected to the budget process in this way,” Ms. Jean-Pierre commented from the briefing room podium.
Perhaps these conversations are actually productive, compared to past speaker-president relationships. (President Donald J. Trump once called House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a “third degree” politician during a White House meeting in 2019. It ended shortly thereafter.)
But are they normal?
Sort of, according to William Howell, a professor at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy.
“It’s normal in the sense that it’s familiar, but it’s not normal in the sense that it’s especially healthy or in line with how other countries service their debt obligations,” he said.
Outside of Washington, Americans have signaled that they would like to see both Republicans and Democrats progress in other ways. On Tuesday, CNN published a poll That said that while most Americans supported raising the debt limit, only 31 percent thought Biden had the right priorities, and 29 percent thought Republicans did.
Forget it. The productivity of the debt ceiling continued throughout the day on Tuesday, even as members of the restive right flank of the Republican Party, which McCarthy will have to pacify to reach a deal, let it be known that they were in no particular hurry. .
When a Semafor reporter asked Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican, about the talks, he replied that he and his conservative colleagues “do not feel we should negotiate with our hostage.”
It was not clear if Gaetz was referring to the president or the federal government.
On Tuesday, reported politician that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia bid $100,000 to buy a tube of used lip balm from Mr. McCarthy at a Republican fundraising auction.
The high-value purchase sparked public outrage from Democratic lawmakers who accused them of frivolous behavior as the country plunged toward default.
“Spending $100,000 on lipstick while working overtime to dismantle programs working families depend on. The priorities of the Republican Party in a nutshell,” Rep. Nydia Velázquez of New York said on Twitter.
Biden’s allies say they believe real, tangible progress can be made when one of two things happens: financial markets start to put pressure on Republicans, as they did in 2011, or the holiday weekend rolls around.
“Nothing motivates Congress like the smell of jet exhaust as we get closer to the weekend,” said Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior Obama adviser who was in the White House during painful debt ceiling negotiations. in 2011 and 2013.
“So we’ll see what happens in a couple of days.”