Vice President Joe Biden and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner pressed Republicans to accept higher revenue to help curb deficits in talks aimed at achieving a plan to raise the U.S. debt limit before Aug. 2, two congressional aides said.
Republicans countered during the private meeting yesterday that any tax increase would hurt the economy and couldn’t pass the Republican-led House, said the aides, who spoke on condition of anonymity as lawmakers stepped up attempts to reach an agreement. The two aides weren’t authorized to discuss the talks publicly.
“We set up three meetings next week, so we’re making progress,” Biden told reporters on his way out of the Capitol in Washington after he and Geithner met with six Senate and House members from both parties.
Senator Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, said a separate effort by a bipartisan group of senators seeking a longer-term debt-reduction compromise was expanded from five to 18 members for a briefing.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who took part in the Biden-led meeting, said a new urgency is evident in the talks after signs that the U.S. job market is slowing. The group is prepared for a “robust series of meetings” to try to get results, he said.
No ‘Credible Plan’
“The news economically on the jobs front over the last couple of days, I think, underscored the importance of this meeting,” Cantor, a Virginia Republican, told reporters. “Much of the problem surrounding the lack of job creation and growth in this country has to do with the fact that there isn’t a credible plan to manage down the debt and deficit.”
Payrolls grew at the slowest pace in eight months in May, Labor Department figures released June 3 showed. Moody’s Investors Service last week said if there’s no progress on increasing the debt limit in coming weeks, it expects to place the government’s rating under review for a possible downgrade.
Lawmakers are under pressure to find agreement on raising the $14.3 trillion debt limit before a Treasury Department deadline of Aug. 2. Republicans insist that a major deficit- cutting plan must be part of any legislation to raise the debt ceiling. Yesterday’s meeting was the sixth of the Biden-led group.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the president is “quite confident” Congress will vote to raise ceiling. “There really is no alternative,” Carney said.
Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, one of the Democrats in the Biden group, said the discussions involved Democratic proposals to eliminate tax loopholes and other ways to raise revenue. He declined to give specifics about the proposals except to say they covered “the whole range of things that you might expect.”
Asked about Republican reaction, Van Hollen said “people wanted to get a good understanding of the proposals, the revenue impact, that sort of thing.”
The next meeting, tentatively scheduled for June 14, will address discretionary spending, budget caps to control spending and other mechanisms like enforceable spending targets to control deficits and the long-term debt, said one of the congressional aides who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Even with a stepped-up pace in talks on a deal to reduce deficits and debt, the same economic news that is putting pressure on negotiators is also sparking discussion about new moves to boost the economy that would add to deficits.
Payroll Tax Cut
Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the top Republican on the tax- writing Senate Finance Committee, said he would consider supporting an employer payroll tax cut being considered at the White House, even as he says President Barack Obama could create jobs more efficiently.
Conrad said he would instead support about $100 billion in infrastructure spending to help create jobs. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, a senior Democrat on the Finance panel, said he would like to see a combination of more infrastructure spending and tax-code changes both parties can support.
Negotiators “did not get into detail” on the payroll tax proposal, which White House aides are discussing as a method of encouraging more hiring by employers, Van Hollen told reporters.
Conrad is a member of the so-called Gang of Six bipartisan senators who had been working on a debt-reduction plan since the beginning of the year. That group has been in limbo since one member, Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, dropped out over disagreements on overhauling entitlement programs.
Conrad and other members of the original group, including Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Senate Democrat, briefed 13 other senators in hopes of keeping their effort alive.
“We never ended, despite what is reported some places,” he said. “We’ve kept adding people,” he said, “for the purposes of giving others a briefing.”
It’s unclear whether those senators will become permanent members of the effort, he said. Senator Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican and co-chairman of the group, said he was “hopeful” Coburn will return to the negotiating group.
Chambliss and another member of the group, Republican Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho, have said the Biden talks are aimed at reaching a short-term deal on spending cuts to attach to a vote to increase the debt ceiling. They say their effort seeks to include entitlement and tax overhauls to cut the debt by at least $4.5 trillion over 10 years.
Senator Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat and co-chairman of the Senate group with Chambliss, said yesterday their effort is the best hope for a longer-term debt solution.
“If we kind of limp through the lowest common denominator debt-ceiling extension,” Warner told the Economic Club of Washington D.C., “we may have the time, bond markets may react OK, but I don’t know how big this window is.”
“The sooner we can finish our work,” said Warner, “the better this moves along.”
Conrad said he had put together a 10-year, $5.64 trillion “illustrative” plan for balancing the budget.
“This is not a plan in the sense of a proposal to be advanced,” he said. He said it was meant to “show what it takes to balance the budget” over 10 years. Republicans have criticized Democrats for failing to come up with a budget proposal of their own.
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