Biden says rescinding unspent COVID-19 relief funds ‘on the table’

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President Biden on Tuesday said rescinding unspent COVID-19 relief funds is “on the table” when it comes to an area where he and lawmakers can agree to make some spending cuts — but he was vague on whether that could also be part of debt ceiling talks.

When asked if he would consider clawing back the unspent funds “even if it’s independent on these debt limit discussions,” Biden appeared to leave that option open.

“The answer is I’d take a hard look at it because … we don’t need it all but the questions is what obligations were made, commitments made, the money not disbursed, etc,” Biden told reporters when asked about if clawing back funds is an option.

“I’d have to take a hard look at it. It’s on the table,” he added.

House Republicans have passed legislation that would raise the debt ceiling and cap government funding at fiscal 2022 levels, all aimed at curbing spending and rolling back several Biden administration actions. It includes clawing back the unspent COVID money.

The president’s roughly hourlong meeting Tuesday with Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) came just more than a week after Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told lawmakers the U.S. could default by June 1.

Biden said he thought the meeting was “productive” in making sure the U.S. doesn’t default on its debt. McCarthy left the meeting and told reporters that there was no movement from either side in debt limit negotiations.

The president pushed back and accused McCarthy of not being “low key” during the meeting when the other leaders were. He said that inside the room, there “occasionally” would be “a little bit of an assertion that was maybe a little over the top from the Speaker.”

When asked if there was progress, Biden said “yes, among three of the four,” referring to McCarthy as the outlier.

“Yes, there was substantial movement in the sense that everyone agreed that deficit, defaulting on the debt is off the table,” Biden added.

He noted, which McCarthy did as well, that the leaders all agreed to have their staff continue discussions between now and Friday and that the five will meet again at the end of the week.

“One of the ways in which senators or Congress persons are able to back off some of the things they’ve done is if they give their staff some leeway,” he said.

The president is set to leave Washington later this month for the Group of Seven summit in Asia, but he said it’s “possible, not likely” he would stay in town to finish the talks as the deadline approaches.

“I’m still committed [to the trip] but obviously this is the single most important thing that is on the agenda,” he said.

Biden also confirmed he was considering the 14th Amendment as an option to unilaterally work around the debt ceiling.

Biden and White House officials have been adamant that Congress should raise the debt ceiling without conditions, pointing to decades of precedent under Democratic and Republican administrations.

Ahead of the meeting Tuesday, Biden joked that the leaders were going to “solve all the world’s problems.”

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