President Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy spoke by telephone on Saturday evening as White House and congressional Republicans worked feverishly to cement a deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling and avert a fiscal crisis.
The call took place after Representative Patrick T. McHenry, Republican of North Carolina and one of the lead negotiators, told reporters on Capitol Hill earlier Saturday that the parties were either “hours or days” away from an agreement.
Two people close to the talks who insisted on anonymity to discuss the state of play said the conversation between Mr. Biden and Mr. McCarthy would determine whether a final agreement could be reached later Saturday or negotiations would have to continue.
“Big, thorny issues remain — some that the president and the speaker have to resolve at that level,” said Mr. McHenry, who has been involved in negotiations for 11 days.
But with complaints growing among the hard right that Mr. Biden had gained the upper hand in the talks, Republicans were working urgently to ensure that any deal they agreed to would have enough support to pass the House, where they hold only a slim majority.
After a late night of negotiations Friday that continued into Saturday morning, Mr. McCarthy returned to the Capitol from lunch at midday with a box of takeout food for the dozens of reporters who had been camped outside his office in anticipation of news.
“I don’t know about today,” Mr. McCarthy said when asked whether an agreement might be reached Saturday. Mr. McCarthy nevertheless said he was “optimistic” about a deal, and that he would brief his members on the entire bill before briefing the press.
For days, top White House officials and Republican lawmakers have been closing in on a deal that would raise the debt limit for two years while imposing strict caps on discretionary spending not related to the military or veterans for the same period.
Mr. Biden began negotiating with Mr. McCarthy this month after weeks of insisting Congress should raise the debt ceiling with no strings attached. Democrats have accused Republicans of holding the economy hostage over their demand for deep spending cuts, while Republicans have raised concerns over the country’s growing federal debt, which stands at $31.4 trillion.
On Saturday it was becoming more apparent that Mr. McCarthy would need Democrats to support whatever deal he cuts with President Biden to pass the legislation, as lawmakers from the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus harshly criticized the contours of the emerging deal.
The group produced a document Saturday that said the deal under consideration would raise the national debt by $4 trillion and abandon all but a few Republican demands.
“Utter capitulation in progress. By the side holding the cards,” fumed Representative Dan Bishop, Republican of North Carolina and a member of the caucus.
Most lawmakers not directly involved in the negotiations have traveled home to their districts for the weeklong Memorial Day break, but 35 members of the Freedom Caucus have sought to pressure Mr. McCarthy not to back down from Republican demands to restrict federal spending for 10 years, repeal additional money for the Internal Revenue Service, cut clean energy tax credits and claw back unspent funds to combat Covid-19.
Mr. McCarthy said those criticizing the terms of the deal do not know its details, and Republican negotiators said they continued to stand firm on a demand to impose tougher work requirements for social safety net programs as part of a deal.
“Not a chance. Not happening,” Representative Garret Graves, Republican of Louisiana and one of the negotiators, told reporters Friday of the possibility of dropping the work demand.
But that will likely not be enough for the members of the House Freedom Caucus.
“If work requirements are what become the centerpiece of a ‘deal,’ then there should be no deal,” Representative Chip Roy, Republican of Texas and a member of the caucus, wrote on Twitter. “Talk about holding the wrong line.”
Mr. Bishop threatened legislative “war” against the deal if it amounts to little more than a “clean” increase to the debt ceiling that takes the issue off the table past the 2024 election.
Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said on Friday that the United States would run out of money to pay its bills by June 5, allowing a little more time than a previous estimate while maintaining the urgency for congressional leaders to reach a deal to raise or suspend the debt limit. A default would set off a cascade of potential problems for the American economy.
Democrats have sought to make sure the public would blame Republicans should the country default.
“MAGA Republicans have manufactured a default crisis — and it’s veterans, seniors and working families who will pay the price,” Representative Katherine M. Clark of Massachusetts, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, wrote on Twitter.
The post Biden and McCarthy Speak by Phone as They Push to Cement Debt Limit Deal appeared first on New York Times.