After optimism, debt ceiling talks on ‘pause,’ McCarthy’s top negotiator says

(WASHINGTON) — After optimistic talk from both House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Joe Biden earlier this week, Rep. Garrett Graves, who is leading debt ceiling talks for House Republicans, said Friday negotiations have hit a snag.

“We decided to press pause because it’s just not productive,” Graves said as he emerged from a Capitol Hill meeting with White House negotiators.

The development comes as time is quickly running out for lawmakers to find a debt ceiling compromise or risk default for the first time in history. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned the U.S. could run out of cash to pay all its bills by June 1.

Soon after Graves’ remarks, White House negotiators said they are “playing it by ear” when asked about the possibility of more meetings Friday and during the weekend.

Despite the snag, a White House spokesperson insisted Friday a deal was still “possible.”

“A responsible, bipartisan budget agreements remains possible if both sides negotiate in good faith and recognize that neither side will get everything it wants,” the spokesperson said. “There are real differences between the parties on budget issues and talks will be difficult. The President’s team is working hard towards a reasonable bipartisan solution that can pass the House and the Senate.”

But Graves on Friday slammed the administration position as “unreasonable.”

“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,” Graves added.

The Louisiana Republican touted the Save, Limit, Grow Act that the House narrowly passed last month, which he said “has great savings in it. and it’s responsible and puts us on a path to bend the curve.”

The bill, which would block various White House priorities such as federal student debt cancellation and new funding for the IRS, has been deemed a nonstarter by Democrats.

The apparent breakdown comes after the White House late Thursday night touted “steady progress” following a phone call between Biden, Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young and counselor to the president Steve Ricchetti.

“The President’s team informed him that steady progress is being made. The President directed his team to continue pressing forward for a bipartisan agreement and made clear the need to protect essential programs for hardworking Americans and the economic progress of the past two years as negotiations head into advanced stages,” the White House tweeted.

“He remains confident that Congress will take necessary action to avoid default,” the White House added.

McCarthy, too, seemed more optimistic Thursday than at any other point in the process as he said they were in a “much better” place than a week ago.

“We’re not there. We haven’t agreed to anything yet,” McCarthy said during an impromptu gaggle with reporters. “But I see the path that we could come to an agreement. I think we have a structure now.”

Timing remains critical as lawmakers stare down a fast-approaching deadline to lift or suspend the debt ceiling or risk a default. McCarthy said Thursday he believed a deal would need to made in principle by this weekend in order for a bill to clear the House and Senate before June 1.

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