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Biden says he’s confident leaders will reach an agreement on debt limit

<i>Evan Vucci/AP</i><br/>President Joe Biden speaks Wednesday
Evan Vucci/AP
President Joe Biden speaks Wednesday

By Maegan Vazquez, Donald Judd and Nikki Carvajal, CNN

(CNN) — President Joe Biden on Wednesday sought to lay out how he’ll continue to negotiate with congressional leaders on the budget to raise the debt ceiling – underscoring that all parties agreed that the United States would not default.

In remarks delivered just before departing for Japan, the president relayed his meeting at the White House on Tuesday with Democratic and Republican congressional leaders was “productive,” adding, “I think you can be confident that we’ll get the agreement.”

Time is running short to raise the borrowing limit ahead of June 1, which is the earliest date the Treasury Department says the government could be unable to pay its bills, triggering a default on the national debt which could have catastrophic consequences on the global economy.

In the Roosevelt Room ahead of his trip, the president also emphasized that negotiations to outline areas to trim the budget are separate from negotiations to avoid default. The White House has sought to maintain that budget negotiations and debt ceiling negotiations operate on separate tracks.

“To be clear, this negotiation is about the outlines of what a budget would look like, not about whether or not we’re going to pay our debts,” Biden said. “The leaders all agreed, we will not default. Every leader has said that.”

Around the time of Tuesday’s meeting with congressional leaders, the White House officially announced that Biden had canceled two legs of his trip to the Pacific region. While he will still travel to Japan for the Group of 7 meeting, he will no longer visit Papua New Guinea and Australia. The president will return to Washington on Sunday.

The president told reporters he’ll “be in constant contact with my team while I’m at the G7 and (I will) be in close contact with (House Speaker Kevin) McCarthy and other leaders as well,” during his travel abroad.

On Tuesday, McCarthy and Biden both agreed to more direct conversations between their two teams. Conversations between the two teams began Tuesday evening and are taking place again on Wednesday, the president said.

A key sticking point in budget negotiations has been whether Biden and congressional Democrats will accept changes to work requirements for safety net programs, something House Republicans have been pushing for.

Biden said if he accepts any additional work requirements, they will not be “anything of any consequence.”

“I’m not going to accept any work requirements that’s going to … impact on medical health needs of people,” Biden said. “I’m not going to accept any work requirements that go much beyond what is already – I voted years ago for the work requirements that exist, but as possible it’s there could be a few other – but not anything of any consequence.”

Capitol Hill talks continue

In the House, McCarthy said his staff is now meeting directly with White House staff on debt ceiling negotiations.

“I believe we’ve got the right people in there that can come to an agreement,” the California Republican said.

But Democrats are attempting to launch a backup plan in the event that an agreement is not reached. Democrats, led by Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, are planning to move on a discharge petition to force consideration of a vehicle for legislation to avert a default on the debt ceiling.

The move is largely performative. A discharge petition requires 218 votes to force a vote on the floor, which House Democrats do not have.

Democratic lawmakers in both chambers in recent days have balked at the idea of accepting additional work requirements as part of a budget deal.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin on Wednesday attacked House GOP efforts to include work requirements for Medicaid and other social safety net programs in a deal to raise the debt limit.

“Of course, it’ll be compromised, but the notion that we’re gonna go after the ‘welfare queens’ – how many times does he want to play that card? It doesn’t apply in this situation,” Durbin told CNN’s Manu Raju. “We’re talking about food for children, for God’s sake.”

Pressed if he could vote for a deal that included these work requirements, Durbin replied, “I can’t speculate on that, but I will tell you this: the notion that if we penalize enough children and disabled people in this country that Speaker McCarthy will be satisfied with the budget is just an outrageous suggestion.”

But West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, a key moderate vote, called House Republicans’ proposed work requirements “very reasonable.” He also said he would like to see his permitting reform plan used as the starting point in these talks and that he has been having conversations with the administration about his bill.

In the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that while it’s encouraging to see Biden’s team directly engaging with McCarthy’s, time is of the essence.

“It’s encouraging the White House is now engaging seriously with the only counterpart that can help deliver an actual solution. But, because it took the president three months to start dealing in reality, we now have a time problem,” McConnell said.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer appeared optimistic after the White House meeting on the debt ceiling.

“We still have a lot more work to do between now and the day we bring the legislation to the floor. But yesterday’s meeting was a promising step in the right direction,” Schumer said in his opening remarks on the floor Wednesday. He reiterated what he told reporters Tuesday, that McCarthy agreed that there’s needs to be a bipartisan agreement, but noted that he hopes no one creates “red lines in the sand.”

Schumer also met with a number of bank leaders to discuss the debt ceiling standoff and other issues.

Schumer was slated to meet with JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon and Citigroup CEO Jane Fraser, among others. In addition to Schumer, bank CEOs are expected to meet with other lawmakers and officials.

After the meeting, the majority leader said he asked the bank executives “to make sure that they tell everybody that default should not be an option – period.”

This story has updated with additional developments.

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Kristin Wilson, Haley Talbot, Nicky Robertson, Matt Egan, Manu Raju, Morgan Rimmer and Lauren Fox contributed to this report.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - US Politics

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