WASHINGTON — President Biden will meet with Speaker Kevin McCarthy at the White House on Tuesday in a critical face-to-face confrontation that will frame their showdown over the federal debt and spending in the weeks before the nation is set to default on its obligations for the first time in history.
With the American and perhaps the global economy hanging in the balance, the meeting will be the first sit-down session between the Democratic president and Republican speaker since February. But even the terms of the discussion are in dispute: Mr. McCarthy insists the president negotiate a debt ceiling deal with him, while Mr. Biden insists the meeting will just be an opportunity to tell the speaker that there will be no negotiations over the limit.
The meeting in the Oval Office will feature Mr. Biden, Mr. McCarthy and three other congressional leaders: Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the Democratic leader in the House, and Senators Chuck Schumer of New York and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Democratic and Republican leaders in the Senate. But Mr. Biden and Mr. McCarthy are the key players, locked in a political game of chicken to see who will blink first on raising the debt ceiling.
With the federal government expected to default on its debt as soon as June 1 without an agreement, Mr. McCarthy and his Republican caucus have refused to raise the debt ceiling without commitments to major spending cuts. Mr. Biden has said he would discuss ways to reduce the deficit but has refused to link any spending decisions to the debt ceiling increase, arguing that Congress should simply raise the ceiling as it has for generations to pay for spending already approved.
“We should not have House Republicans manufacturing a crisis on something that has been done 78 times since 1960,” Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said on Monday. “This is their constitutional duty. Congress must act. That’s what the president is going to make very clear with the leaders tomorrow.”
The meeting that Mr. Biden has called, she added, will not involve any haggling over the debt ceiling. “I wouldn’t call it ‘debt ceiling negotiations,’” she said in reply to a reporter who used that phrase. “I would call it a conversation.” In fact, she was so intent on calling it a “conversation” that she used the word to describe the meeting 15 times during her briefing.
Neither side expects any breakthrough at the session, scheduled for 4 p.m., but instead the leaders plan to use it to emphasize their positions in the dispute, in effect setting the parameters for the debate that will play out over the next few weeks. In recent years, such standoffs have not been resolved until the final hours and days before a deadline — or the deadline is extended.
Mr. Biden has indicated that he is willing to have a separate discussion with Mr. McCarthy and the Republicans over spending that is not directly linked to the debt ceiling legislation. White House officials said the president plans to push Republicans to consider the tax increases and prescription drug savings he laid out in his most recent budget, which would reduce deficits by an estimated $3 trillion over 10 years, as part of a larger package to reduce debt accumulation over time.
He is likely to challenge Republicans in Tuesday’s meeting to be more specific in the spending they would cut. He has hammered them for more than a week over the potential consequences — like reduced funding for veterans’ health services — that could result from the discretionary spending caps they included in a debt ceiling bill that passed the House late last month.
Republicans have bristled at the president’s attacks on their legislation, calling them misleading. But they noted that unlike the Democrats, they at least have passed a measure to raise the debt ceiling, albeit conditioned on spending cuts. They argued that Mr. Biden and his Democratic allies have to come to the table with a counterproposal. Otherwise, they maintain, it would be the Democrats, not the Republicans, who failed to raise the debt ceiling, leading to a possible default.
“They have to now step up and act like responsible leaders,” Representative Jodey C. Arrington, a Republican from Texas and the chairman of the House Budget Committee, said on CNBC on Monday. “We’ve done that, and we have set that example, and we have placed in their hands a list of proposals that we have gotten consensus on. It’s their time to respond, and the American people expect them to.”