WASHINGTON--President Joe Biden and Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy held initial talks on Wednesday about raising U.S. government borrowing limits in a first test of how the two will work together, with both sides agreeing to talk more.
The White House said after the meeting that Biden told McCarthy he was eager to work with Republicans "in good faith." McCarthy said the two men could find common ground. But, as expected, there was no sign of an immediate breakthrough.
"The president and I had a good first meeting," McCarthy told reporters after the more-than-hour-long meeting. He said the two men shared their perspectives with each other. "I think at the end of the day, we can find common ground," he said.
The Democratic president and Republicans, who won control of the U.S. House of Representatives in November's elections, are locked in a standoff over raising the federal government's $31.4 trillion U.S. debt ceiling. Failing to do so would put the world's largest economy on a path to default.
"President Biden made clear that, as every other leader in both parties in Congress has affirmed, it is their shared duty not to allow an unprecedented and economically catastrophic default," the White House said in a statement. "It is not negotiable or conditional."
The Oval Office talks may serve as the opening bell for months of back-and-forth maneuvering. Neither side expected a solution to emerge from a single meeting. Without action, the government could lose its ability to pay all its bills as early as June.
McCarthy expressed optimism that such a scenario could be avoided. "I believe if we're able to get to an agreement, we could have a funding agreement for the next two years," McCarthy said. "I told the president I would like to see if we can come to an agreement long before the deadline."
Biden has said he wanted to see McCarthy's budget plan. "Show me his budget!" he told reporters on Tuesday when asked if he would negotiate with the House leader.
The White House said Biden was open to talks about deficit reduction untethered to the debt ceiling debate. "The president welcomes a separate discussion with congressional leaders about how to reduce the deficit and control the national debt while continuing to grow the economy," it said.
House Republicans want to use the debt ceiling as leverage to exact cuts, though they have yet to unite around a specific plan. The increase covers the costs of spending programmes and tax cuts previously approved by Congress, and is usually approved on a bipartisan basis.