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Biden says he won’t accept debt ceiling deal only on Republican terms as he leaves G7 summit


HIROSHIMA, Japan — With less than two weeks to go before the nation reaches the point where it can no longer pay its debts, President Joe Biden made it clear on Sunday that he was staying away from congressional Republicans in the budget discussions.

At a press conference at the end of the Group of Seven summit in Hiroshima, Biden said the two sides had been unable to resolve deep differences over spending and taxes, despite intensive negotiations over the past few years. last weeks.

As he returned home on Sunday, Biden said he planned to speak with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and hoped the California Republican awaited his return so the two could negotiate directly and make progress. supported.

While Biden was in Japan for part of last week, senior White House aides conducted a series of on-and-off talks with House Republicans that failed to produce a breakthrough.

Biden, who participated in Zoom calls on the debt ceiling with aides at home, described a numbing series of discussions filled with proposals and counter-proposals that he said sounded “ridiculous”. Political gambling by far-right MAGA Republicans also infected the negotiations, he said.

“I think there are MAGA Republicans in the House who know the damage this would do to the economy,” he told reporters. “And because I am president and a president is responsible for everything, Biden would take responsibility for it. And it’s the only way to ensure Biden won’t be re-elected.

The tightrope strategy could soon become quite costly. Treasury officials have said the United States will not be able to pay its bills as early as June 1 unless Congress raises the debt ceiling by $31.4 trillion.

If the government ends up defaulting on its debt, economists predict that financial markets would collapse, jobs would disappear and interest rates would rise, making it harder for Americans to buy homes and pay their bills. If that happened, Biden said he wouldn’t be the only one facing voter wrath.

“No one would be blameless,” he said.

Biden opened the press conference with a familiar recitation of why the Republicans’ budget plan falls short. The deep spending cuts being considered by GOP lawmakers would preserve tax breaks for wealthy oil companies while eliminating tens of thousands of law enforcement and teaching jobs, he said.

He added that he was ready to cut spending but also wanted to increase tax revenue as part of a balanced deficit-cutting plan.

“It’s time for Republicans to accept that there is no bipartisan deal to be struck solely — solely — on their partisan terms,” he said. “They also have to move.”

So far, the Republicans have held firm. Although Biden has said he will not negotiate lifting the debt ceiling, the White House appears to be doing just that. Republicans have gained considerable leverage by choosing not to raise the debt ceiling until they secure Biden’s commitment to sweeping federal spending cuts.

Even though he practiced diplomacy abroad, Biden could not escape the budget fight at home. His counterparts were curious about the standoff and asked about it during the three-day summit.

“I would just say that countries are keenly interested in what is a big story,” Jake Sullivan, the White House national security adviser, told reporters over the weekend. “And the president was able to tell them that he thinks we can get a good result here.”

The main activity of the summit was the fight against threats from China and Russia. If the conference had a star attraction, it was neither Biden nor any of his counterparts from France, Italy, Germany, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.

Rather, it was Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian president who flew in a French plane in great secrecy as battles raged in his homeland around the eastern town of Bakhmut.

“They destroyed everything. There are no buildings. That’s a shame. It’s a tragedy,” Zelenskyy said of Bakhmut ahead of a meeting with Biden on Sunday. “There’s nothing on this place, so – just on the ground and – and a lot of dead Russians.”

Zelenskyy was not supposed to be present in person. When he showed up in his green military fatigues on Saturday, the focus of the summit clearly shifted, a senior Biden administration official told NBC News on Sunday.

China has slipped as an agenda item and Ukraine has become the dominant issue, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to speak more freely.

They added that some G7 participants were unhappy given the many threats and challenges posed by China.

By simply showing up, Zelenskyy “will put pressure on all the key players in the G7 to continue to support Ukraine”, the official said. “It’s one of the most effective diplomacies we’ve seen on the world stage.”

“Everyone recognizes that the challenge of the Ukrainians is dramatic and a priority,” the official added. “But there are also pressing issues in the Indo-Pacific that need attention and they [other G7 participants] I don’t want these to be drowned out by the visit.

It’s a familiar and frustrating dynamic for US officials who think China deserves more attention. When Barack Obama was president, he promised a “pivot to Asia” in which the United States would turn its attention to a part of the world that poses both serious national security risks and enormous economic opportunities. Fast-paced events in other parts of the world have often gotten in the way — much like the war between Russia and Ukraine intercedes on Biden’s watch.

Biden warmly greeted the Ukrainian leader. Before posing for a group photo with the other leaders on Sunday, Biden threw an arm around Zelenskyy.

“Zelenskyy’s ability to make it personal and to make it immediate and real is an intangible factor, but it has an impact,” said Daniel Fried, former US ambassador and member of the Atlantic Council. “It won’t change things on the battlefield, but it does energize political support for Ukraine.”

Later on Sunday, the two presidents held a meeting where Biden formally announced a new $375 million military aid package to Kyiv, including munitions, artillery and armored vehicles.

“Together, with the entire G7, we stand with Ukraine,” Biden said at the start of the meeting. “And I promise we’re not going anywhere.”

Although Biden once opposed the transfer of F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine for fear of an escalation in the war, he has since changed his mind. The United States has now agreed to help train Ukrainian pilots to fly the F-16. At the press conference, Biden said he doesn’t fear the planes will widen the conflict.

“I have a categorical assurance from Zelenskyy that they won’t, they won’t use it to continue and move into Russian geographic territory,” he said.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.