Kevin McCarthy says the Home of Representatives might vote subsequent week

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-California, delivers a press conference with House and Senate Republicans on the topic of the “debt crisis” on Wednesday, May 17, 2023 in the West Plaza of the US Capitol.

Tom Williams | Cq-roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said Thursday he is optimistic that negotiators in Congress could reach an agreement to raise or suspend the debt ceiling in time for a House vote next week.

“I see the way we can come to an agreement,” McCarthy told reporters at the Capitol. “And I think we have a structure now and everyone works hard and I mean we work two or three times a day and then go back to get more numbers.”

Investors have been watching Washington closely this week for signs of progress in the months-long standoff over the debt ceiling.

White House negotiators huddled with McCarthy’s team in the Capitol complex on Thursday, continuing their efforts to negotiate a deal that could be signed by the House of Representatives with Republican before the possible June 1 deadline, the earliest date the Treasury Department could run majority and passed by the democratically controlled Senate, cash is no longer required to pay off debts that have already been incurred.

McCarthy declined to give reporters new details about exactly what was being discussed behind closed doors. He said, “I don’t think it’s productive if you write something and then everyone who’s not in the room gets upset about it.”

“I just think we’re a lot better where we were a week ago and where we are today because we have the right people in the room who are discussing the issue in a very professional way, with all the knowledge and the overall background of all the various leaders,” McCarthy added.

The comments mark a notable change of tone from the Republican House Speaker, who has previously expressed more pessimism than either the White House or Congressional Democrats about the chances of a compromise that could win the support of his fractious faction.

McCarthy’s renewed optimism came after a key meeting at the White House on Tuesday, after which President Joe Biden dispatched two of his most trusted negotiators to start a new round of talks: presidential adviser Steve Ricchetti and Office of Management and Budget director Shalanda Young.

Talks on the Republican side will be chaired by Louisiana Representative Garret Graves, who served as a committee staffer in the House and Senate before being elected to office himself.

Like Graves, Young served for many years as a House staffer. Together, they bring to the talks their first-hand knowledge of how complex legislation can be pushed through the House of Commons.

Partisan rhetoric aside, McCarthy took time out Thursday to praise the White House team.

“I have the greatest respect for Shalanda and for Ricchetti. They’re extraordinary, smart, tough, they’re strong in their faith on the side of Democrats, just like those we have in the room,” he told reporters inside the Capitol’s Statue Hall.

“They are working on it very professionally, looking at where we can raise the debt ceiling, taking into account concerns about the state of the House of Representatives and others, and putting together a bill that will become law,” McCarthy said.

Both the House and Senate stuck to their original plans to leave for the weekend on Thursday, a sign that the steady progress of the talks has boosted congressional leaders’ confidence in a possible deal.

The Senate meeting is not expected to take place again until the last few days of May. But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., advised members to prepare 24 hours in advance for returning to the Capitol.

While McCarthy’s apparent reversal was welcome news for nervous markets, it set off alarm bells among congressional Democrats.

Members of the president’s own party are growing concerned this week that Biden will give Republicans the upper hand in the House of Representatives, despite Democrats controlling both the White House and Senate.

Hakeem Jeffries, chairman of the House Democrats from New York, warned that a key Republican demand that Biden is open to — stricter labor requirements for some federal aid programs — is a “non-starter, period, period” for House Democrats.

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In the Senate, meanwhile, a group of 11 Democrats on Thursday sent Biden a letter urging the president to keep open the option to invoke the 14th amendment.

The amendment states, among other things, that “the validity of the United States government debt … shall not be questioned.”

But the legal theory that the president can simply ignore the debt ceiling by invoking the constitutional requirement that the country pay its bills has not been tested in court.

Earlier this month, Biden said he had considered the 14th amendment but concluded it would not prevent a default.

The growing frustration of some Senate Democrats over the direction of the talks was evident at a news conference Thursday with some of the senators who signed the letter.

Senator Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Independent, from left, Senator Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, Senator John Fetterman, a Pennsylvania Democrat, Senator Peter Welch, a Vermont Democrat, and Senator Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, during a press conference at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, U.S., on Thursday, May 18, 2023.

Al Drago | Bloomberg | Getty Images

“If the bottom line is that the only deal available that McCarthy will agree to is one that exploits ordinary families and floods the economy with fossil fuels, then that is unacceptable,” said Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley.

Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who wrote the letter, complained that Senate Democrats were kept in the dark about what was going on in the talks. He indicated that Biden is yielding to his longstanding demand that House Republicans pass an unconditional debt ceiling hike.

“None of us know exactly what’s going on in the talks,” Sanders said. “I think the President has been adamant from day one that there is a clean approach to the debt ceiling. And I think we all support that.”

When asked if he had shared his concerns with the White House, Sanders replied, “Yes,” and declined to say more.

“It was a private conversation,” he added.

Correction: McCarthy spoke on Thursday about the debt ceiling agreement. In an earlier version it was wrong when he spoke. Garret Graves is a representative from Louisiana. In an earlier version, his name was misspelled.

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