McCarthy on Debt Ceiling: ‘We’re Not Going to Default’

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that “there will not be a default” while discussing raising the federal debt ceiling while controlling government spending.

Partial transcript as follows:

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to get to some of the top agenda items. You have accepted an invitation to meet with President Biden. When will that happen, and what offer will you put on the table?

MCCARTHY: Well, we’re going to meet this Wednesday. I know the President said he didn’t want to have any discussions, but I think it’s very important that our whole government is designed to find compromise. I want to find a reasonable and a responsible way that we can lift the debt ceiling, but take control of this runaway spending. I mean, if you look at the last four years, the Democrats have increased spending by 30%, $400 billion. We’re at a 120% of GDP. We haven’t been in this place to debt since World War Two. So we can’t continue down this path. And I don’t think there’s anyone in America who doesn’t agree that there’s some wasteful Washington spending that we can eliminate. So, I want to sit down together, work out an agreement that we can move forward, to put us on a path to balance- at the same time, not put any- any of our debt in jeopardy at the same time.

BRENNAN: But- avoid a default in other words?


BRENNAN: But do you have any indication that the President is willing to discuss both lifting the debt ceiling and the issue of future spending?

MCCARTHY: Well, if he’s changed his mind from his whole time in the Senate and Vice President before, I mean, he literally led the talks in 2011 and he praised having those talks. This is what he’s always done in the past. And if he listens to the American public, more than 74% believe we need to sit down and find ways to eliminate this wasteful spending in Washington. So, I don’t believe he would change his behavior from before, and I know there’s a willingness on our side to find a way that we can find a reasonable and responsible way to get this done.

BRENNAN: Right, I mean, you know why I’m asking that of in terms of not linking one as leverage for the other.

MCCARTHY: Yeah. In my first conversation, and to be fair, the President, when he called me to congratulate winning speaker, this is one of the first things I brought up to him. And he said we’d sit down together. Now, I know his staff tries to say something different, but I think the President is going to be willing to make an agreement together.

BRENNAN: Well, we’ll watch for that on Wednesday–

MCCARTHY: I’m hopeful, yeah.

BRENNAN: I want to dig into what you are willing to put on the table because Republicans campaigned on fiscal responsibility. You promised you won’t spend more next year than you did last year. Are you willing to consider any reductions to Social Security and Medicare?

MCCARTHY: No. Let’s take those off the table–

BRENNAN: Completely?

MCCARTHY: Yeah. I mean, if you read our commitment to America, all we talk about is strengthening Medicare and Social Security. So, and I know the president says he doesn’t want to look at it, but we’ve got to make sure we strengthen those.

BRENNAN: What do you mean by strengthen? You mean lift the retirement age, for example?

MCCARTHY: No, no, no. What I’m talking about Social Security, Medicare, you keep that to the side. What I want to look at is they’ve increased spending by 30%, $400 billion in four years. When you look at what they have done, adding $10 trillion of debt for the next ten years in the short time period, if you just look a month ago, they went through and they never even passed a bill through appropriations in the Senate. While Mr. Schumer has been leader, he’s never passed a budget, he’s never passed the appropriation bill. He simply waits to the- to the end of the year and allowed two senators who are no longer here to write a $1.7 trillion omnibus bill.

BRENNAN: So you want to work with Democrats to come to agreement on a budget?


BRENNAN: Is that what you’re saying?

MCCARTHY: Yes, I- I first think our very first responsibility, we both should have to pass a budget. We both should have to pass the appropriate- appropriations bill so the country can see the direction we’re going. But you cannot continue the spending that has brought this inflation, that has brought our economic problems. We’ve got to get our spending under control.

BRENNAN: Okay, just fact check, though, 25% of the debt was incurred during the last four years of the Trump presidency. I mean, this is cumulative debt over many, many years.

MCCARTHY: Yeah, well, over the short- this time period. But you’ve also found that you had a pandemic. And as that pandemic comes down, those programs leave. I’ve watched the president say he cut it. No, it is spending $500 billion more than what was projected. They have spent more and we’ve got to stop the waste.

BRENNAN: Is defense spending on the table?

MCCARTHY: Well, look, I want to make sure we’re protected in our defense spending, but I want to make sure it’s effective and efficient. I want to look at every single dollar we’re spending, no matter where it’s being spent. I want to eliminate waste wherever it is.

BRENNAN: But when you became Speaker, you did come to that agreement, I’ve referenced, of capping ’24 spending at ’22 levels. So that would call for reductions.

MCCARTHY: Well listen– no, I mean, look, you’re going to tell me inside defense there’s no waste? Others? I mean–

BRENNAN: So defense spending is up for negotiation?

MCCARTHY: They spend a lot of- I think everything, when you look at discretionary, is sitting there. It’s like every single household, it’s like every single state. We shouldn’t just print more money, we should balance our budget. So I want to look at every single department. Where can we become more efficient, more effective, and more accountable? That should be–

BRENNAN: So more efficiencies in Social Security and Medicare as well?

MCCARTHY: The one thing I want to say, we take Social Security–

BRENNAN: Completely?

MCCARTHY: –and Medicare off the table.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Would you support a short-term debt limit extension until September? Buy more time for talks?

MCCARTHY: I don’t want to sit and negotiate here. I’d rather sit down with the President and let’s have those discussions. The one thing I do know is we cannot continue the waste that is happening. We cannot continue just to spend more money and leverage the debt of the future of America. We’ve got to get to a balanced budget.

BRENNAN: Well, and I think many people would agree with you on the issue of fiscal responsibility, but there’s that deadline on the calendar in terms of facing potential default. Are you saying–

MCCARTHY: Wait, wait a minute–

BRENNAN: you will guarantee the United States will not do that?

MCCARTHY: We’re not going to default. But let me be very honest with you right now. So we hit the statutory date, but let’s take a pause. We have hundreds of billions of dollars. This won’t come to fruition until sometime in June. So the responsible thing to do is sit down like two adults and start having that discussion. Unfortunately, the White House was saying before, like they wouldn’t even talk. I’m- I’m thankful that we’re meeting on Wednesday, but that’s exactly what we should be doing. And we should be coming to a responsible solution. Every family does this. What is- what has happened with the debt limit is you reached your credit card limit. Should we just continue to raise the limit? Or should we look at what we’re spending?

BRENNAN: Paying past commitments.

MCCARTHY: No, no. Chuck Schumer never passed a budget since he’s been leading. He’s never passed an appropriation bill. Those are the most basic things that Congress should do. And what- if you’re going to show to the American public where you want to spend your money and if you’re going to ask the hardworking taxpayer for more of their money, you first should lay out how you’re going to spend it and you should eliminate any waste so you don’t have to raise more taxes.

BRENNAN: But just to put a fine point on it, because it matters a lot to the markets in particular, you will avoid a default? You will not let that happen on your watch?

MCCARTHY: Look- there will not be a default. But what is really irresponsible is what the Democrats are doing right now, saying we just raise the limit.

BRENNAN: But would you- would you get in the way if- if 15 Republicans came to you and said they would be willing to raise the debt limit, would you allow them to do so with Democrats?

MCCARTHY: Let me be very- the only- the only person who is getting in the way right now, is the President and Schumer. They won’t even pass a budget. They won’t even negotiate. We have now till June. I want to make sure we have something responsible, something that we can move forward on and something that we can balance our debt with. So I’m looking for sitting down. That’s exactly what I’ve been asking for. The only one who’s playing with the markets right now is the President to have the idea that he wouldn’t talk. Did the president really believe and really all your viewers, do you believe there’s no waste in government? Do you believe there was no waste in that $1.7 trillion? That’s what we were spending just four weeks ago. So I think the rational position here is sit down, eliminate the waste and put us on a path to balance.

Follow Pam Key on Twitter @pamkeyNEN


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