WASHINGTON -- Senate Republicans laid out a series of demands on a debt ceiling deal during a Thursday meeting with the president, asking for entitlement cuts and spending caps, but no tax revenue increases, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said.
President Barack Obama held a meeting at the White House on Thursday for Senate Republicans as part of a series of discussions he is having with different factions of Congress over raising the government’s debt limit. The government is expected to reach the current debt limit by May 16, meaning the Treasury will not be able to take on additional loans to pay its obligations. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said in a May 2 letter to Congress the Treasury could function using “extraordinary measures” until about Aug. 2 before defaulting on some of its loans.
Republicans in the Senate have said they will not vote for a bill that increases the debt limit unless Congress approves major efforts to reduce the deficit along with it. But McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Thursday that his caucus will not agree to revenue-raising measures as part of the debt ceiling deal, arguing tax issues are too complex to tackle by August.
“We are talking here about spending reductions,” he said at a press conference. “There will be no tax increases in connection with raising the debt ceiling. We know what the options are, the only question remaining is what we will pick up and agree to on a bipartisan basis.”
President Barack Obama told Democrats on Wednesday that he opposes spending caps as part of the debt limit deal, because they could impact Medicare for seniors. The president, along with Democrat leaders such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, has called for a deal that cuts spending and raises revenue by ending certain tax breaks and subsidies.
McConnell said Obama heard from a number of GOP senators during the Thursday meeting, during which they shared their thoughts for tackling the deficit. Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) were among the senators who spoke, he said.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Obama also told Republicans at the meeting that taxes must be on the table. Any long-term plan for deficit reduction has to include "all aspects of spending, including spending through the tax code," Carney said.
Although McConnell declined to comment on the statements made by members of his caucus, he said they generally supported spending caps and changes to entitlements, and would oppose tax increases.
In the next five to 10 years, McConnell said he wants to see cuts to entitlements, particularly Medicare and Medicaid. He said he would not support a deal that does not include long-term changes to the entitlement programs, including eligibility changes, but declined to comment on whether he would support Medicare means-testing or raising the income cap on Social Security.
McConnell said the government has already done the necessary studies to enact such changes before August, the deadline for extending the debt limit.
“I view this as a major opportunity to do something for the country," he said. "Divided government is the best time -- and some would argue the only time -- when you can do really big stuff."
Jennifer Bendery contributed reporting.