Biden aide says negotiation on debt ceiling is ‘nonstarter’

WASHINGTON — A White House economic adviser said negotiations over raising the U.S. debt ceiling are an “absolute nonstarter” for President Joe Biden, though he’s ready to discuss spending with congressional Republicans.

“There is a separate set of discussions and negotiations over fiscal policy,” Jared Bernstein, a member of Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “We have our budget, we want to see what Republicans have.”

“That’s the discussion that the president is anxious to have with Republicans,” he said. “But the problem is, they really need to bring a plan to the table.”

Bernstein’s comments are the latest positioning in a looming showdown over the debt limit after Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy met on Feb. 1 for what the White House called a “frank and straightforward dialogue” that will continue.

Congressional Republicans have said they want federal spending cuts in exchange for raising the limit. If Congress doesn’t increase the ceiling by sometime in June, the U.S. risks defaulting on its debts.

“The negotiation over the debt ceiling, over default, is an absolute nonstarter for this president,” Bernstein said.

By law, the federal government’s debt cannot exceed $31.4 trillion, a cap that was reached on Jan. 19. The Treasury has said it can hold out at least through early June by using special accounting maneuvers.

Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers said Biden should stand firm against hard-line Republicans linking a debt ceiling increase to spending cuts.

“Fifteen people can’t stop the debt limit unless 210 other Republicans are committed to vote with them,” Summers said on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” on Sunday. “It only takes a few responsible Republicans for the Democrats and some Republicans to raise the debt limit.”

Biden has said Congress has a non-negotiable constitutional duty to avoid a U.S. default.

“I think he should be staying very strong,” Summers said. “Will there be any cosmetic things looking at future spending — maybe there will be. But fundamentally this is not something where there should be bargaining.”

Gary Cohn, a former economic adviser to President Donald Trump and the current IBM vice chairman, said Biden and McCarthy are aware of the stakes.

“I feel they both understand there is no choice at the end of the day we have to raise the debt ceiling,” he said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

“The question is, can the Republicans get something in the legislation attached to the debt ceiling legislation that they feel is a win and that Democrats are willing to give them,” he said. “Historically, that’s what has happened, numerous times.”