May 10, 2023

Biden Says Debt Ceiling Talk With McCarthy was ‘productive’ Transcript

Biden Says Debt Ceiling Talk With McCarthy was ‘productive’ Transcript
RevBlogTranscriptsDebt CeilingBiden Says Debt Ceiling Talk With McCarthy was ‘productive’ Transcript

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre 5/09/23. Read the transcript here.

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President Joe Biden (00:00):

You all must be tired by now. I shouldn’t go around other questions. I have a brief statement and I’ll be happy to take your questions.

First, I just finished, I thought, a productive meeting with the congressional leadership about the path forward to make sure America does not default. Emphasize, does not default on its debt for the first time in history.

I’m pleased, but not surprised to hear, Republican minority leader of the United States Senate saying that at our meeting that the United States is not going to default, never has and it never will. He’s absolutely correct. We agree to continue our discussions and we’re going to meet again on Friday.

In the meantime, our staffs were going to meet today, and daily, between now and then, and everyone in the meeting understood the risk of default. Our economy would fall into a significant recession. It would devastate retirement accounts, increase borrowing costs. According to Moody’s, nearly 8 million Americans would lose their jobs and our international reputation would be damaged in the extreme. The last part is me, international, Moody’s did not say the last part about damage in the extreme.

I made clear during our meeting that default is not an option. Repeated that time and again. America is not a deadbeat nation. We pay our bills and avoiding default is a basic duty of the United States Congress.

In fact, they did it three times under my predecessor without once, not one time, creating a crisis, rattling the markets, or undermining the unshakeable trust the world has in America’s commitment to paying its bills. And I’ll remind you, the national debt went up 40% over the 200 year… Went up 40% under my predecessor. And that’s the problem we’re dealing with today. I might note parenthetically, in my first two years I reduced the debt by $1.7 trillion. No president’s ever done that.

I told congressional leaders that I’m prepared to begin a separate discussion about my budget and the spending priorities, but not under the threat of default. As I said, I’ve already cut the deficit by 1.7 trillion in my first two years in office. And the budget just submitted to Congress, cuts another $3 trillion in debt over the next 10 years. My budget that I submitted.

I made it clear that we can cut spending and cut the deficit. For example, my budget cuts $200 billion in spending by strengthening Medicare’s power to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices. In addition, that’s on top of the $160 billion in budget savings we passed last year, by being able to reduce the price of insulin and other drugs for those on Medicare.

And my budget cuts 30 billion, 30 billion, in spending on tax subsidies for big oil companies. They made $200 billion. They don’t need a $30 billion subsidy to drill. It makes no sense. Why are we handing them a $30 billion tax subsidy? And you know it’s time to stop doing that. And that’s what my budget does, among other things.

My budget also funds the internal revenue code so that there’s enough agents to thoroughly look at the taxes of billionaires in America. This congressional budget office says it would raise $200 billion. Larry Summers, the former secretary, says it’ll raise twice that amount. It’ll raise a lot of money. Why do they want to get rid of the people who in fact would be able to do those audits?

And my budget has some of the strongest anti-fraud proposals ever proposed. It strengthens the number of inspector generals. Remember, I know some of you covered me with my arguments in the past, with the last administration, for cutting inspector generals as to how the money was being spent. And inspector generals are watchdogs for taxpayers dollars and it’s estimated that we’d save $10 for every dollar spent on funding the inspector generals. My budget cuts wasteful spending, closes loopholes and does one more thing, it makes the wealthiest Americans and the biggest corporations to begin to just start to pay some of the fair share, just some of the fair share.

Speaker McCarthy offered a very different way forward. He’s proposed deep cuts that I believe are going to hurt American families. Millions of Americans relying on Medicaid for their healthcare would be at risk of losing that. And there would be 30 million fewer outpatient visits for veterans to the VA hospitals. And we just increased the VA budget so they can accommodate seeing these folks.

And we’d have to cut 30,000 law enforcement agents, FBI, DEA, Border Patrol. A hundred thousand teachers and support personnel would lose their jobs. And all of that would hurt Americans and leave folks behind. Look, now I know the speaker says, well, I’m not… He uses the, L-word, the lying word… But says I’m not telling the truth.

All I asked him inside was, if you’re not going to cut any of those programs and you’re saying the cut is 22% across the board, then you’re going to have to cut a hell of a lot more with the programs that are left. “No, we’re not going to do that either.” I’m not sure. I don’t think they’re sure exactly what they’re proposing. And if House Republicans take cuts in defense off the table, the cuts they have to make to other programs will be even deeper than that.

And one last thing, that’s very important. The speaker is saying he’s been trying to get me to sit down with him for 97 days. 97 days ago we did meet in my office. I said to him at the time, “I’m happy to talk. You submit your budget, I’ll submit mine and we’ll talk about it.” And I don’t want to get any press person, point anybody up, but I think you all remember my saying that.

I submitted my budget on March the 9th in detail. He passed his plan, I think, in the last or second of last week in April. Five days later, after he finally put forward something, I called on him to invite him to a meeting with the other leading members of the Congress.

Look, over these last few days and weeks, there’s going to be… there’s a lot of politics, posturing and gamesmanship and it’s going to continue for a while. But I am squarely focused on what matters and we’re getting to work. As I’ve said all along, let’s discuss what we need to cut, what we need to protect, what new revenue we can raise, and how to lower the deficit to put our fiscal house in order. But in the meantime, in the meantime, we need to take the thread of default off the table.

As the meeting ended, I suggested we continue to meet and our staffs continue to meet, and the leaders meet again on Friday to continue our discussions to see what progress we made. So let me end where I began. This nation is never defaulted on its debt. It never will. Thank you. And now I’ll take your questions. Yes ma’am.

Speaker 2 (07:24):

Will you rule out a short-term debt limit increase and are you concerned that Speaker McCarthy, at least publicly, will not take the threat of default off the table?

President Joe Biden (07:39):

I don’t know what he thinks, what Speaker McCarthy thinks. I think he knows better. I think he knows that default would be disastrous and I think he knows what he’s passed could not possibly pass anywhere in the Congress. It’s dead on arrival. But I don’t know the depths of his thinking. Yes.

Speaker 2 (08:00):

And what about a short term debt limit increase? Are you ruling that out? Is that not okay for you?

President Joe Biden (08:04):

I’m not ruling anything out. I said I’d come back and talk. There’s one thing I’m ruling out, is default. And I’m not going to pass a budget that in fact caused massive cuts. And I’ll give you one example. They want to cut the legislation we passed, the IRA. Well, guess what they want to cut? They say that we’re spending too much giving tax breaks to people who are moving to renewable energy and that by getting rid of those tax breaks we can save money.

You all saw, one of you probably wrote the article in today’s New York Times, about Texas. They’re making significant progress on solar and wind and renewable energy and hydrogen. And guess what? They want to cut it. You know why? I don’t think it’s anything to do with anything other than the oil companies don’t like it.

Speaker 3 (08:58):

How certain are you at this point that a default can be avoided with so little time left?

President Joe Biden (09:05):

Well, I’m absolutely certain because you have the 95% of the member… I shouldn’t be putting a number… An overwhelming number of the members of the Congress know it would be a disaster.

Speaker 4 (09:18):

Mr. President, if you do, you said you’re certain you’re not going to, there won’t be a default. Are you willing to take unilateral action like invoking the 14th Amendment to make sure that doesn’t happen?

President Joe Biden (09:30):

Well, I have been considering the 14th Amendment. And a man I have enormous respect for, Larry Tribe, who advised me for a long time, thinks that it would be legitimate. But the problem is it would have to be litigated, and in the meantime, without an extension, it would still end up in the same place. I’ll be very blunt with you. When we get by this, I’m thinking about taking a look at, months down the road, as to see whether what the court would say about whether or not it does work. Yes, sir.

Speaker 5 (10:00):

Do you have time to get a deal and get it through before the deadline of this early as January 1st, as Secretary Yellen has warned of?

President Joe Biden (10:08):

I know we have the time. I mean we could do it easily. But do we have the will?

Speaker 5 (10:12):

And you mentioned the 14th, sir, there’s other proposals like prioritization of payments and minting the coin. Can you speak to whether either of those have been studied by your staff?

President Joe Biden (10:22):

No, I can’t because I don’t think anybody studied the minting of the coin issue. But there have been discussions about whether or not the 14th Amendment can be invoked.

Speaker 5 (10:32):

Is that the most likely unilateral executive path, worst case scenario?

President Joe Biden (10:37):

I don’t think that solves our problem now. I think that only solves your problem if once the court has ruled that it does apply for future endeavors. Yes, sir.

Speaker 6 (10:47):

Mr. President, do you trust Kevin McCarthy?

President Joe Biden (10:51):

I trust Kevin will try to do what he says. I don’t know that… I don’t know how much leeway Kevin McCarthy thinks he has, in light of the fact, and I’m not being a wise guy when I say it took 15 votes for him to acquire the speakership and apparently he had to make some serious concessions to get it from the most extreme elements of his party. But I just don’t know.

Speaker 5 (11:20):

How long an increase were you seeking? How long would you like to extend it either by dollar value or do you want it suspended indefinitely?

President Joe Biden (11:28):

Well, no, no, no. I think it should be for more than a year so we can move things along and I think the discussions are somewhere in two years but there’s no certainty when or how long.

Speaker 7 (11:41):

Was Speaker McCarthy’s message to you behind closed doors, the same one that we heard from him at the steps, that he will absolutely not decouple raising the debt ceiling with cuts. Did he send that message to you?

President Joe Biden (12:00):

I don’t want to violate basically a trust that we had that you can talk openly and make and raise possibilities in the White House on a closed meeting.

Speaker 7 (12:15):

On another topic, sir. Today, former president Donald Trump was charged with battery and defamation. Your reaction to that, sir?

President Joe Biden (12:25):

I’m unaware of that. I heard that as I’ve been walking from room to room, but I can’t comment and I don’t know.

Speaker 8 (12:30):

Let us ask it this way. What was the tenor of the meeting? What was it [inaudible 00:12:34]?

President Joe Biden (12:35):

Tenor of the meeting was, with three of the four participants, very measured and low-key. Occasionally, there would be a little bit of an assertion that maybe was a little over the top from the speaker, but nothing, you know… Anyway.

Speaker 8 (13:02):

Do you expect any substantial progress by the time you get back to meeting on Friday?

President Joe Biden (13:08):

Well, it’s going to depend a lot on… I’ve been doing this a long time. I don’t mean budget negotiations for the debt ceiling, but sometimes… How can I say this? One of the ways in which senators or congresspersons are able to back off some of the things they’ve done is if they give their staff some leeway, and the staff has then said, “Well, we’re going to do this.” And it kicks the can down the road a little bit.

Speaker 5 (13:46):

[inaudible 00:13:44] you postpone your trip for the G7 as a result of this or are you still committed to going on that trip?

President Joe Biden (13:47):

I’m still committed, but obviously this is the single most important thing that’s on the agenda.

Speaker 7 (13:53):

Mr. President [inaudible 00:13:54].

President Joe Biden (13:54):

Let me get someone who hadn’t asked a question yet. Anybody? I’ll ask yours as well. Yes ma’am.

Speaker 9 (14:01):

So there is talk that you might not go on a trip and you say this is the single most important issue.

President Joe Biden (14:04):

I’m sorry.

Speaker 9 (14:05):

Is it possible that you stay here then you don’t [inaudible 00:14:08]…

President Joe Biden (14:10):

It is possible. Not likely. In other words, if somehow we got down to the wire and we still hadn’t resolved this and the due date was in the matter of when I was supposed to be away, I would not go. I would stay till this gets finished.

Speaker 5 (14:22):

Are you more, sir, are you more or less optimistic than you were this morning?

President Joe Biden (14:25):


Speaker 5 (14:25):


President Joe Biden (14:28):

Because I’m a born optimist.

Speaker 7 (14:30):

Mr. President, was it a mistake, under the Obama administration when you were vice president, to negotiate on the debt limit in the summer of 2011 since that set a precedent, under a divided government, to at least negotiate and have discussions over raising the debt limit?

President Joe Biden (14:45):

No, in the sense that I got a call that morning at six o’clock saying that the Republican leader would only talk to me and there was no time left. And so I sat down and I got instructions from the White House to settle it and that was my job, but I had no notice.

Speaker 7 (15:11):

Mr. President, Speaker McCarthy said he asked you numerous times…

President Joe Biden (15:15):

Okay. Let me go you and you and then the person with the camera. No, I’m joking.

Speaker 7 (15:22):

Speaker McCarthy said that he asked you numerous times if there was anywhere in the federal budget for cuts, but he did not get an answer. So is there an answer?

President Joe Biden (15:30):

He got a specific answer. He got a specific answer again today.

Speaker 7 (15:34):

Which is what?

President Joe Biden (15:35):

The first… You didn’t listen either, so why should I even answer the question? We cut the deficit by $160 billion, billion, B-I-L-L-I-O-N, dollars on the Medicare deal. We cut the deficit by raising the tax, on 55 corporations that made $40 billion, to 15% and the list goes on.

Speaker 7 (16:00):

But in terms of what he is proposing, is there any room for negotiation?

President Joe Biden (16:04):

What’s he proposing? Did he tell you?

Speaker 7 (16:06):

Well, he talked about…

President Joe Biden (16:08):

No, no, I’m not being facetious. Did he tell you what he’s proposing?

Speaker 7 (16:11):

He was talking about the bill.

President Joe Biden (16:14):

Yeah, but what does it propose? Do you know? I’m not being a wise guy? You all are very, very informed people. Do you know what that bill cuts?

Speaker 7 (16:24):

There is a long list of things that it cuts that he [inaudible 00:16:28]…

President Joe Biden (16:28):

No, no, it doesn’t say. Does it say what it’s going to cut or just say generically it’s going to cut? You get the problem? You’ve answered it.

Speaker 2 (16:39):

Speaker McCarthy told us outside that he wants at least for you to consider cutting and clawing back some of the unspent Covid relief funds. Would that be something that you would consider even if it’s independent of these debt limit discussions?

President Joe Biden (16:51):

The answer is, I’d take a hard look at it because there’s still… We don’t need it all. But the question is what obligations were there made, commitments made, the money not dispersed, et cetera. I have to take a hard look at it. It’s on the table.

Speaker 4 (17:08):

And just briefly sir, to put a finer point on it, the Republicans came out today and their message was essentially there wasn’t much substantial progress in the meeting. Do you agree with that?

President Joe Biden (17:16):

I didn’t see everything they said. I didn’t hear them say that.

Speaker 4 (17:18):

They said there was no movement.

President Joe Biden (17:20):

Yeah. What else did they say?

Speaker 4 (17:22):

So do you think that there was any substantial progress, aside from agreeing to meet again?

President Joe Biden (17:27):

Yes, among three of the four, yes, there was substantial movement in the sense that everyone agreed that deficit, defaulting on the debt is off the table. Last one. Okay.

Speaker 3 (17:39):

Title 42, is the United States ready for the surge of people that’s going to come across the border starting later this week?

President Joe Biden (17:48):

I spent, I think, close to an hour with the Mexican president today. We’re doing all we can. The answer is, it remains to be seen. We’ve gotten overwhelming cooperation from Mexico. We also are in the process of setting up offices, in Columbia and other places, where someone seeking asylum can go first. But it remains to be seen, it’s going to be chaotic for a while.

And as an example, as I raised in the meeting, when they said, well, we’re going to cut and no spending more money. So what the hell happens if you cut, you’re going to cut people at the border, you’re going to cut agents at the border? We need more at the border, not less at the border.

Folks, thank you very, very much. I appreciate your time and I’m sure we’re going to be talking more about this. Thank you.

Now the cameraman wants to go on. Thank you very much.

Speaker 7 (18:51):

He wants to know if the US defaults, will you be able to say that you did everything in your power to avoid it?

President Joe Biden (18:55):

I promise you I will do everything in my power. Thank you.

Speaker 7 (18:56):

Thank you, Mr. President.

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