McCarthy still ‘optimistic’ on debt ceiling deal

President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy spoke by phone Saturday night as White House and Republican congressional negotiators continue to work on a debt ceiling agreement.

Biden and McCarthy spoke by phone around 6 p.m. Eastern Time, CBS News has learned. Biden spoke earlier with Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Democratic House Minority Representative Hakeem Jeffries.

A White House official said CBS News negotiators “continue to make progress.”

However, GOP negotiator Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina struck a more pessimistic tone, telling reporters just before the call that there was still a rift between the two sides over spending and demands for work.

Those disagreements — and “most of the remaining issues” — need to be resolved by Biden and McCarthy on their call, he said.

“These are important and thorny issues that we have to reconcile in a divided government,” McHenry added.

McCarthy was on Capitol Hill over the weekend, and he told reporters Saturday morning, “We don’t have a deal. We’re not there yet. We’ve made progress.”

He said he and the negotiators “worked until early this morning and we are there now”.

There are, he said, “some things that we just have to finish,” adding, “we have to make sure we get a good deal for the American people.”

When asked later Saturday morning if he was confident a deal could be done by the afternoon, McCarthy replied, “I don’t know for today.”

Time is running out to suspend or raise the debt ceiling to avoid a first default by the US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a letter to Congress On Friday, “we now estimate that the Treasury will not have enough resources to meet the government’s obligations if Congress has not raised or suspended the debt ceiling by June 5.”

Despite pressure to tackle the debt ceiling, McCarthy reaffirmed the House would uphold its 72-hour rule, which gives House members 72 hours to consider a bill once its text is finalized before voting on it .

“It will be an agreement that I think everyone should be able to read,” he said. But unlike most legislation being considered by Congress, McCarthy predicted this one would be shorter, “anywhere between 150 pages or less.”

If negotiators reach an agreement, the speaker said he would call all congressional leaders and discuss the “basis of where we are going” and the timing of the move.

McCarthy said he spoke to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and suggested negotiators also received ideas from Democratic lawmakers like moderates from Sen. Joe Manchin and Rep. Josh Gottheimer.

When pressed for a deal, McCarthy said only, “Every day I feel closer and better.”

McHenry said negotiators narrowed down the list of issues to be resolved.

“This is not how I anticipated the final hours, the final days would unfold. But we are coming to a very narrow set of issues that need to be addressed… We have had a very long list for a long time,” he said. he told reporters early in the day on Saturday. “What I didn’t anticipate was that we would have a very short roster for a very long time.”

Biden told reporters on Friday that he, too, was optimistic.

“As far as the debt ceiling is concerned, things are looking good,” the president said, as he left for Camp David for the weekend. “I’m very optimistic. Hopefully we’ll have clearer evidence tonight before the clock strikes 12 that we have an agreement. But it’s very close, and I’m optimistic.”

— Kathryn Watson contributed to this report.

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