US House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Sunday said he would meet President Joe Biden on Wednesday to discuss raising the federal debt ceiling while controlling government spending, adding that Republicans will not allow a US default.
McCarthy told CBS' "Face the Nation" program that cuts to Social Security and Medicare would be "off the table" in any debt ceiling negotiations.
But he added that Republicans want to "strengthen" the costly retirement and health benefit programmes for seniors – a statement that the White House called a euphemism for cuts.
"I know the president said he didn't want to have any discussions" on cuts, McCarthy said. "I want to find a reasonable and a responsible way that we can lift the debt ceiling (and) take control of this runaway spending."
The US Treasury this month activated extraordinary cash management measures to avoid breaching the US$31.4 trillion limit on federal debt imposed by Congress. But without an increase by early June, the Treasury has said it may run short of cash to pay the government's bills, raising the biggest threat of default since a debt ceiling standoff in 2011.
"There will not be a default," McCarthy said without elaborating. "But what is really irresponsible is what the Democrats are doing right now, saying you should just raise the limit."
A White House official familiar with plans for the meeting – which Biden had previously pledged to hold – confirmed it would be held on Wednesday. The White House has said it will not negotiate over raising the debt ceiling.
Biden administration officials have framed the planned meeting with McCarthy as an opportunity to develop the two leaders' "working relationship."
McCarthy and other Republicans both in the House and Senate have said they will not support an increase in the debt ceiling without budget cuts or spending reforms.
McCarthy did not provide details on specific demands, but ruled out immediate cuts for Social Security and Medicare, including an increase in the retirement age for benefits.
White House spokesman Andrew Bates said that McCarthy's pledge to strengthen the programs would lead to cuts.
"For years, congressional Republicans have advocated for slashing earned benefits using Washington code words like 'strengthen,' when their policies would privatize Medicare and Social Security, raise the retirement age, or cut benefits," Bates said in a statement. (Reuters)