Optimism fueled by new room for compromise on spending caps

There is hope that a debt-ceiling deal is within sight. The new optimism largely hinges on positive signals from negotiators on the key issue of government spending.

Staff-level talks remained productive on the issue overnight following optimistic remarks Monday from both President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a person familiar with the negotiations said Tuesday.

The teams are gathering again today for further negotiations.

President Joe Biden meets with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of Calif., to discuss the debt limit in the Oval Office of the White House, Monday, May 22, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

At issue is an increase of about $130 billion in government spending from FY2022 to FY2023 that was approved by Congress late last year.

In comments Monday evening, a lead negotiator for House Speaker Kevin McCarthy signaled that Republicans are open to compromise on their proposal to return to the FY2022 levels and then impose a 1% cap on future increases.

“We’re here negotiating,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) after Monday’s Oval Office meeting. “The teams in the room have built some level of relationship and trust that we can actually get a product that is mutually agreeable.”

What the White House has offered is a compromise to freeze federal spending at current FY2023 levels.

“There’s a dollar between those levels so it seems likely they can find some common ground there,” said Shai Akabas, the Bipartisan Policy Center’s director of economic policy, Tuesday morning during a briefing.

His group also released a new debt limit projection today that finds a growing risk of default if a deal is not reached before a dangerous upcoming period from June 2nd to the 13th.

“It seems to me like they’ve basically negotiated what the package is going to look like and right now they’re figuring out how to structure it precisely so they can sell it to both sides,” Akabas said.

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy of Calif., and Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., walks from the West Wing to speak to reporters after meeting with President Joe Biden at the White House, Monday, May 22, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) leave the White House West Wing after debt ceiling talks on Monday. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

‘We may be able to get where we have to go’

There are other issues beyond spending that are subject to negotiation from the two sides.

One is proposed new work requirements from the GOP that would be tied to federal assistance like the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Another is permitting reform to cut red tape for new energy projects.

A key sticking point is a last-minute push from the White House to close certain tax loopholes – especially in the fossil fuel and cryptocurrency sectors – to raise additional revenue. Republicans have repeatedly rejected anything that could be described as a tax increase.

The negotiators are also trying to find common ground on a push from the GOP to “claw back” COVID relief money that remains unspent. This part of the negotiations could have an impact on the overall conversation around spending levels.

Finally, markets will also be closely watching how much a possible deal actually raises the debt ceiling itself. The Republican proposal would lift the limit by $1.5 trillion or until March 31, 2024 — whichever comes first — with many hoping for a more significant raise to take the issue off the table until after next year’s presidential election.

In a new statement, Business Roundtable CEO Joshua Bolten applauded the sense of optimism and urged a swift compromise, warning “every American will be affected if the U.S. defaults.”

Ben Werschkul is Washington correspondent for Yahoo Finance.

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