US House Speaker McCarthy says he told Biden lack of debt talks jeopardizes economy

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden delivers State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol in Washington
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By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said on Sunday that he confronted President Joe Biden about a lack of negotiations on the $31.4 trillion U.S. debt ceiling last week and told the president he is putting the economy at risk.

McCarthy, the top Republican in the House of Representatives, first met with Biden on Feb. 1. But a standoff has since ensued between Republicans who want to use the debt ceiling to exact spending cuts from the White House, and Biden, who wants the debt ceiling raised without strings attached.

"I just saw the president again on St. Patrick's Day, Friday," McCarthy told reporters in Orlando, Florida, where House Republicans are holding a retreat this week.

"I sat down with him and said, you said we'd meet again. Every day that passes, you put the economy in jeopardy," he said.

White House officials were not immediately available for comment.

Biden has called on McCarthy and House Republicans to produce a fiscal 2024 budget before negotiating on spending. The president released his own $6.8 trillion spending plan nearly two weeks ago, which Republicans have rejected outright.

House Republicans are now working on their own budget, which is expected to call for deep cuts in discretionary nondefense spending. The hardline House Freedom Caucus has released its own spending plan, which calls for resetting nondefense spending to pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels and eliminating multiple Biden programs.

"I said: look, we're not going to raise taxes and we're not going to pass a clean debt ceiling. But everything else is up for negotiation," McCarthy said.

The California Republican said he urged Biden to consider work requirements for social programs, border security and federal permitting reform for energy, as well as reduced spending.

Biden's proposal and the hardline Republican response are early salvos in a budget negotiation that Republicans hope will lead to spending cuts.

But the political standoff has raised concerns about a possible first-ever default sometime this summer, when the Treasury is expected to exhaust its ability to keep government borrowing below the congressionally enacted ceiling.

(Reporting by David Morgan; additional reporting by Nandita Bose; editing by Don Durfee and Chris Reese)