A day before a crucial meeting between Biden and congressional leaders, McConnell said in an interview Monday he told the president privately it was up to him and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to find a solution, even as he projected confidence the nation would avert a default.
“They’re assuming there’s some little secret plan here,” he said, reaching into his jacket pocket for effect. “The White House and the speaker’s teams need to sit down now and settle it.”
McConnell’s comments splash cold water on thinking by some Democrats that the Kentucky Republican — famed for his deal-making on Capitol Hill — would somehow end the impasse.
The stakes for Tuesday’s meeting are growing as both sides face a deadline to act before early June, when the US risks a first-ever default that would trigger a market selloff. Investors have signaled increasing apprehension with Treasury bill markets showing signs of strain.
McConnell insisted Monday that he will back McCarthy, who commands a narrow House majority, during discussions with Biden and Democratic leaders.
“There’s no deal that could pass the Senate with 60 votes that could pass the House, so why do we spend a whole lot of time talking around it?” he said.
When asked for comment, the White House referred to its response Saturday to a letter from GOP senators vowing to block any debt limit bill “without substantive spending and budget reforms.”
“Every one of these Senators just announced to the country – and their constituents – that they are holding millions of American jobs, businesses, and retirement accounts hostage,” according to the statement from White House spokesman Andrew Bates.
McConnell and Biden are no strangers, having served together in the Senate. In 2011, Biden – then the vice president – and McConnell cut a debt deal. McConnell, however, acknowledged that political lines, especially in the House, have hardened.
“We’re in a situation now in the House of Representatives that is much more reluctant to enter into a deal than we had in 2011,” he said.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Sunday insisted that there are “no good options” for Biden to act on his own. During an interview with ABC News, she said measures like declaring the debt limit invalid via the 14th Amendment risked provoking a constitutional crisis and that it was up to Congress to act.
Asked about the political risk to the GOP if the nation defaults, McConnell predicted McCarthy and Biden would eventually reach an agreement.
“I’ve seen this movie several times over the years,” he said. “I think the important thing to say is there will be no default, will not happen, ever, won’t happen this time.”
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