At a press conference on Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., made it clear that any agreement to raise the debt ceiling will have to be hashed out between the White House and House Republicans, led by Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
“I can't imagine any kind of debt ceiling measure that can pass the Senate would also pass the House,” McConnell told reporters, adding: “In this current situation, the debt ceiling fix, if there is one … will have to come out of the House.”
With the U.S. reaching its $31.4 trillion debt limit last week, all eyes are on Congress as lawmakers race to find a solution to avert a first-ever default. The Treasury Department has begun using “extraordinary measures” to fund operations and allow the country to continue paying its debts, which are expected to run out in June.
Republicans want to tie a debt ceiling increase to spending cuts or other concessions from Democrats, saying that they would only raise the limit to secure an overhaul in federal spending. Democrats, on the other hand, argue that Congress has voted to raise the borrowing limit numerous times under presidents of both parties. They've also warned that not raising the debt ceiling would have a devastating impact on the global economy.
President Joe Biden and Speaker McCarthy have agreed to meet to discuss the debt ceiling, but a date for that meeting has not yet been set. McCarthy is pushing for a return to fiscal year 2022 spending levels — a roughly 8% budget cut — a promise he made to conservative holdouts in his lengthy campaign to become speaker.
The Biden administration has thus far refused to negotiate policy concessions in an effort to raise the country’s borrowing authority.
“Like the president has said many times, raising the debt ceiling is not a negotiation; it is an obligation of this country and its leaders to avoid economic chaos,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said last week. “Congress has always done it, and the president expects them to do their duty once again. That is not negotiable.”
Speaking to ABC News, McCarthy accused the president of being "irresponsible" and "playing politics" by refusing to negotiate.
"For the president to say he wouldn't even negotiate, that's irresponsible," McCarthy said. "We're going to be responsible, we're going to be sensible, and we're going to get this done together."
"The longer he waits, the more he puts the fiscal jeopardy of America up for grabs," McCarthy said. "We should sit down and get this done. and stop playing politics."
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat with a solid track record of finding bipartisan compromise, met with McCarthy on Wednesday and told reporters that the California Republican told him House Republicans will not cut Social Security and Medicare.
"I said there's no way in the world that we're going to basically jeopardize and cut anything in Social Security and Medicare," Manchin told NBC News Wednesday afternoon of the roughly 30-minute meeting with McCarthy. "He seemed to be in the same position I was in. That’s not something he wants to do either.”
Manchin told the outlet that McCarthy wants to cut "fraud, waste and abuse" in federal spending, but when asked where the California Republican wants to specifically slash spending, the West Virginia Democrat replied "there’s nothing specific."
Manchin also said that he hopes Biden negotiates with McCarthy.
"I did not get the impression that [McCarthy is] willing to play brinksmanship on this whatsoever," Manchin said when asked if the speaker understands the U.S. cannot default. "He wants to negotiate, and who's better than the president?"
"I don't look at the Republicans, or Kevin McCarthy as the enemy," Manchin said. "He's a partner. We might have different ideas and different approaches, but you don't know that until you talk."
"I can't assume he wants to do something that would be harmful," he added.
Senate Republicans encouraged the new House GOP majority to come to the negotiating table with the White House, echoing McConnell's comments.
"I'm waiting to see the House move and lead, and we'll follow it," North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis told CNN this week.
"Ultimately, I think it’s going to have to be negotiated between the House and the White House," Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a member of Senate Republican leadership, told CNN, noting that some lawmakers in the upper chamber may present ideas on how to end the deadlock.
Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, told CNN that they want to give their House counterparts "space" to find an agreement with the Biden administration.
“At least for right now, knowing that in the end it’s going to have to be something that House Republicans and the president agree on, is to see what they can figure out,” Thune said on Monday. “That’s going to be the best strategy for us.”
McConnell encouraged McCarthy to push for spending cuts. During his press conference, the Kentucky Republican recalled the Budget Control Act, which came out of the 2011 debt ceiling standoff, which he said “actually worked” to slash federal spending.
“I think it’s entirely reasonable for the new speaker and his team to put spending reduction on the table,” McConnell said Tuesday. “I wish him well in talking to the president, that’s where a solution lies.”
A group of conservative Senate Republicans on Wednesday held a press conference to demand that any increase to the debt limit come with spending cuts.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who has long called for increased fiscal responsibility, said that both parties may need to compromise in order to come to an agreement.
"President Biden says he will not negotiate on raising the debt ceiling," Paul, part of the so-called "Breakfast Club" group, said Wednesday. "I have news for him, he will negotiate because conservatives will not vote to raise the debt ceiling without significant reforms."
"The greatest threat to our country is, and the greatest threat to our national security is, the debt," Paul continued. "One of the great things about where we are now, though, is it really doesn't take as much as you would think to actually balance the budget."
"We have an opportunity here. It could be done. But it would take compromise between both parties," he added. "Republicans would have to give up the 'sacred cow' that says we will never cut a dollar in the military. And the Democrats will have to get up the sacred cow that they will never cut a dollar in welfare."
"The rules of the Republican Conference provide not that we will never raise the debt ceiling – it is not my position that we will never raise the debt ceiling," said Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. "Rather, what the rules say is we will use the debt ceiling as leverage to force real and meaningful structural reforms to fix the underlying problem. Doesn't have to be a total solution for everything, but it has to be real and meaningful progress."
When asked where they would specifically make cuts, Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson deferred to House Republicans.
"Exactly what those are we’re not willing to lay that out today, we’re going to be doing that in consultation with the House," he said.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., agreed with his Republican counterpart that the pressure is now on McCarthy to put forward a proposal.
"Leader McConnell said something yesterday that I think is right on the mark: He said that when it comes to moving a debt ceiling proposal through Congress, the House should go first," Schumer said on the Senate floor on Wednesday. "He is correct, and not only should the House go first, but [House Republicans] must quickly show the American people what their plan actually is for avoiding a first-ever default on the national debt."
"So far, we haven’t heard anything beyond vague and troubling talking points about the need to cut federal spending," he continued.
Democrats warned that a default would be catastrophic for the American people, with Schumer accusing House Republicans on Tuesday of “recklessly flirt[ing] with default.”
“It’s clear, default would be a catastrophe for American working families,” Schumer said.
“Playing brinksmanship, taking hostages is being risky and not caring about average people,” he added. "If the MAGA GOP stops paying our nation’s bills, Americans pay the price.”
“We have a responsibility to pay the debts that the Congress has already incurred,” House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., said. "That is what the debt ceiling is all about.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.