McCarthy says debt default is ‘not an option’ but calls on Washington to ‘change its behaviour’

McCarthy says debt default is ‘not an option’ but calls on Washington to ‘change its behaviour’

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has said that defaulting on US debt is not an option but called on Washington to change its behaviour in exchange for raising the debt limit.

The California Republican laid out House Republicans’ terms for negotiations before President Joe Biden is set to deliver his State of the Union Address to Congress on Tuesday, his first since the GOP recaptured the majority in the lower chamber.

Mr McCarthy compared the debt limit to a teenager who spent past the limit of a credit card.

“Yes, you pay for it, but, now this is important, you don't allow their bad spending habits to continue to change their behaviour so it never happens again,” he said. “Well, I think I speak for most Americans, when I say it's time for Washington to change its behavior and act like adults.”

Mr McCarthy only made a few explicit details about what Republicans would and would not cut.

“We will preserve our ability to defend this nation against threats abroad,” he said. “Cuts to Medicare and Social Security, they’re off the table. Defaulting on our debt is not an option. But neither is a future of higher taxes higher interest rates, and an economy that doesn't work for working Americans.”

The United States hit its debt limit last month but is expected to run out of options before hitting a hard ceiling sometime in June. At that point, the country would risk defaulting on its debt.

“Debt Limit debates have been used for nearly every successful attempt to reform federal spending and living history,” he said. “Why? Because the problem only gets solved when both parties come to the table.”

Mr McCarthy obtained the speaker’s gavel early last month after a marathon 15 rounds of votes after he initially failed to earn the requisite majority of votes to lead the lower chamber of Congress. To do so, Mr McCarthy agreed to repeal the so-called “Gephardt rule,” wherein the House automatically sends a debt limit increase to the Senate once it adopts a budget resolution.

Mr Biden, for his, part has said that Republicans cannot use the nation’s full faith and credit as a negotiating tool to cut spending.

But Mr McCarthy cited the former president’s words when he served as vice president to Barack Obama and took part in negotiations to stave off a default on the debt when House Republicans wanted spending cuts.

“‘You can't govern without negotiating,’ he said. Those are his words,” Mr McCarthy said of Mr Biden. “That's ... his sensible standard, and House Republicans are following it now.”

Similarly, Mr McCarthy pointed out how Mr Biden as a senator in 2004 voted against a debt limit increase and cited fiscal irresponsibility during George W Bush’s administration.

“Your vote in 2004 was a protest of the policies that have brought us to a point and a demand that we changed course. We need a different approach,” he said. “No drawing lines in the sand or saying it's my way or the highway. No policy gimmicks or political games. But most of all, no blank checks.”

Mr McCarthy also expressed the need for Congress to move toward a balanced budget, something conservatives have said is essential.

“Mr President, congressional Republicans are ready to act to save our country and to make America strong,” he said.