House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said Monday that he’s open to the idea of freezing spending at current levels in order to secure a debt ceiling deal — an idea supported by President Biden but sure to infuriate liberals in Jeffries’s own Democratic Caucus.
“As part of the effort to find common ground, we’re willing to consider freezing spending,” Jeffries told reporters outside the Capitol. “That is not an extreme proposal. That is a reasonable proposal.”
Amid the talks with Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the White House has offered Republicans a freeze in federal spending at current, fiscal 2023 levels — a proposal McCarthy has rejected.
“A freeze is not less; a freeze is spending the same amount,” McCarthy said Monday evening, shortly after he met with Biden at the White House to continue negotiations.
The spending caps have emerged as a central sticking point in the high-stakes discussions about raising the debt ceiling and preventing a government default, which the Treasury Department has warned could happen as soon as June 1.
Behind McCarthy, Republicans are insisting on steep spending cuts as a condition of raising the debt ceiling, leveraging the threat of default to pressure Biden to accept their terms.
House Republicans had passed a debt ceiling package last month that would cut fiscal 2024 spending back to fiscal 2022 levels — a decrease estimated to be roughly $130 billion below the 2023 levels. They’re noting that the 2022 spending levels were in place as recently as December, when Congress passed a massive government funding bill establishing the current 2023 levels.
“It was not a big cut; it was the same money we were spending five months ago,” said Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), head of the hard-line Freedom Caucus, whose members have warned that they won’t except a watered-down version of the House-passed bill.
“What we’re willing to accept is what we passed last month,” Perry added. “That’s why we passed it.”
Highlighting the perils facing Democratic leaders, a number of liberals are fighting to hike federal spending, warning that cuts would harm programs that benefit the most vulnerable populations.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a staunch liberal, praised Biden on Monday for pushing back against what she characterized as the “some of the extreme demands” from Republicans. But she also warned that there are limits to how far Biden can compromise, and accepting cuts is “going to be a problem” with progressives.
“We do not negotiate through the debt ceiling for this very reason,” she said.
Jeffries acknowledged the unpopularity of the spending freeze, which Democrats have characterized as a cut when inflation is factored in. But he suggested he’s willing to accept it anyway, as a concession to the Republicans who control the House.
“Any proposal that potentially offers to freeze spending is not a proposal that has been put into the public domain by the left flank,” Jeffries said. “That’s an inherently reasonable effort to find common ground in a divided government situation.”
McCarthy and Biden reached no agreement during their White House meeting Monday. But McCarthy said the sides have moved “closer” to a deal and staff-level negotiations are expected to continue into Monday night.