US Congress inches closer to deal before holiday weekend
US President Joe Biden says progress has been made in talks with top Republican Kevin McCarthy over the US debt ceiling – even as Congress breaks up for a holiday weekend.
The pair aim to reach a deal on raising the government borrowing limit for two years so it can keep paying its bills.
Investors’ fears of the US defaulting on its debts have grown – despite assurances that talks are progressing.
Mr Biden spoke of “several productive conversations” with Mr McCarthy.
During a White House event on Thursday, the president said his staff remained in conversation with the team of Mr McCarthy, the House speaker – and that the two sides were “making progress”.
He added: “I made clear time and again that defaulting on our nation’s debt is not an option.” He said Americans deserved certainty over issues such as social security payments.
The debt ceiling is a spending limit set by Congress which determines how much money the government can borrow – an issue on which Democrats and Republicans disagree.
With no deal yet struck, the Treasury has warned that the US will not have enough money to pay all of its bills as soon as 1 June.
Analysts say there could be severe economic consequences if the US fails to honour its obligations.
Details of a potential pact – outlined by Reuters and the New York Times – could allow Republicans to say they cut spending, while Democrats could say they defended domestic programmes.
A US official told Reuters that the White House was considering scaling back an increase of the Internal Revenue Service to hire more auditors, which was intended to target wealthy Americans.
The Times reported negotiators were closing in on a deal that would raise the debt limit for two years while imposing strict caps on spending besides military or veterans for the same period.
Republicans are seeking spending cuts to government programmes, in exchange for raising the $31.4tn (£25tn) cap on government borrowing.
Mr Biden said the two sides had different visions for how to get America’s “fiscal house in order”, but added that all leaders involved agreed that default was not an option.
Mr McCarthy – who leads Republicans in the House and has been the most high-profile public face of the talks for his party – earlier said Democrats and Republicans had worked past midnight on Wednesday and would continue to negotiate.
“There’s a couple of issues still hanging out there that we’ve got to get done,” he said. “We’re gonna work 24/7 to try to make that happen.”
Another key Republican said he believed a deal to raise the nation’s debt-ceiling deal was “likely” by Friday afternoon.
“We are inching closer to a deal. I think it’s some of the finer points they are working on right now,” Rep Kevin Hern told Reuters news agency. “You are likely to see a deal by tomorrow afternoon.”
“Neither side is going to get exactly what they want,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.
The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq were trading higher at midday on Thursday, lifted by positive updates on earnings from some companies, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down about 0.6%.
That followed several days of declines.
Fitch Ratings, one of the big three credit ratings agencies, on Wednesday said it had put the US on “negative watch” – the first step toward lowering the country’s credit rating.
It cited “increased political partisanship” and weak governance compared to other countries that hold its top rating.
“The brinkmanship over the debt ceiling, failure of the US authorities to meaningfully tackle medium-term fiscal challenges that will lead to rising budget deficits, and a growing debt burden signal downside risks to US creditworthiness,” the company said.
Any agreement formed between the two sides will need to be turned into a legislative text to be approved by Congress.
Mr McCarthy has promised to give lawmakers 72 hours to review the bill, and at least 24 hours’ notice if they have to return to Washington early. If a deal is reached this week, a vote could happen early next week.
There is little wiggle room for objections to be raised, as the Senate would also have to vote on the bill, which would then go to the White House for signing.
Lawmakers could also temporarily lift the debt cap to give the talks more time.