WASHINGTON ― The lead Republicans negotiating a debt ceiling deal with the White House walked out of the talks on Friday morning, saying Republicans needed to “press pause,” but returned hours later.
“Until people are willing to have reasonable conversations about how you can actually move forward and do the right thing, then we’re not going to sit here and talk to ourselves,” Rep. Garrett Graves (R-La.) told reporters after leaving a meeting at the Capitol.
The White House confirmed that the two sides remained far from an agreement.
“There are real differences between the parties on budget issues, and talks will be difficult,” a White House official said in an email, adding that the president’s team “is working hard towards a reasonable bipartisan solution that can pass the House and the Senate.”
Hours later, the negotiations resumed, a source told HuffPost. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said during an appearance on Fox Business that Republicans were “back in the room.”
And then, shortly after the talks took up again, they ended again. Graves and Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) told reporters they had a “candid discussion” but made no progress.
Republicans have demanded significant spending cuts in exchange for lifting the federal government’s “debt ceiling,” a legal limit on how much the government can borrow to pay bills Congress has racked up over the years. Republicans also want stricter “work requirements” in certain federal safety net programs.
It’s a high-stakes negotiation: If lawmakers can’t reach a deal, the federal government could default on its debts as soon as June 1. A default would be unprecedented and have big economic repercussions because the entire financial system benchmarks borrowing costs to the interest rates on presumably reliable government debt.
McCarthy and President Joe Biden sounded optimistic this week that they were making progress on a deal, prompting progressive Democrats to sound alarms about potential benefit cuts.
Far-right Republicans in the House Freedom Caucus, meanwhile, called for McCarthy to cease negotiations, which did actually happen for several hours on Friday. Former President Donald Trump urged Republicans on Friday not to make a deal “unless they get everything they want.”
Biden has signaled openness to new work requirements ― better understood as limits on benefits to the unemployed ― but it’s unclear where he might be willing to add them. Republicans proposed stricter eligibility rules for jobless Americans in Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the relatively tiny Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
The talks began in earnest last week after McCarthy demanded for months that Biden negotiate over federal spending and the debt limit. Friday’s drama went down with less than two weeks until a potential default that both sides agree could wreck the economy.