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The White House said Tuesday that President Biden is not budging in his refusal to trade spending cuts with House Republicans in exchange for Congress lifting the federal debt limit, despite the country being less than a month away from default.

Mr. Biden is set to meet with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and other leaders at the White House next week to discuss the matter. But White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was quick to clarify the long-awaited meeting is not a signal that Mr. Biden favors anything other than a clean debt-ceiling hike.

“Given the limited time Congress now has, it is clear that the only practical path to avoid default is for Congress to suspend the debt limit without conditions,” said Ms. Jean-Pierre.

The White House said Mr. Biden will pitch Mr. McCarthy on “initiating a separate process” to negotiate spending levels ahead of the government funding deadline at the end of September. That position has been unacceptable to House Republicans.

Sen. Tim Kaine, an administration ally, said that even without the debt limit, Republicans would be in a good position to negotiate fiscal cuts by the very nature of their control of the House.

“I think the right answer is still to raise the debt ceiling and then have a really tough budget negotiation,” said Mr. Kaine, Virginia Democrat. “But allowing Republicans to threaten a default to get their budget negotiations is not an option.”

SEE ALSO: McCarthy agrees to meet with Biden on debt ceiling next week

Republicans say their leverage would be diminished without including the debt ceiling in negotiations. 

Congress does not have to pass a full-year-long budget, instead opting to pass short-term funding measures to keep the government open. If House Republicans and Mr. Biden can not agree on even a short-term funding measure, the federal government would shut down.

House Republicans, who have received the brunt of the blame in the media and in polls for government shutdowns in the past, are not eager for the fight. That’s especially true since Mr. McCarthy only has a narrow, five-seat majority where 18 House Republicans represent districts carried by Mr. Biden in 2020.

“Government shutdowns never work to the benefit of Republicans,” said a senior House GOP aide. “Biden might even be wishing for one because it feeds into the narrative that House Republicans can’t govern. The debt limit is really the only way to get major concessions on spending.”

With Mr. Biden and House Republicans entrenched, the nation is barreling towards a first-ever default on the ability to pay its debts.

The fiscal cliff is approaching quicker than economists initially expected. On Monday, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned Congress that the U.S. might be unable to pay its bills as early as June 1 if lawmakers do not raise the federal debt limit.

SEE ALSO: House Democrats float proposal forcing clean debt bill through House with GOP votes

It was initially believed that Congress had at least until the end of June to raise the debt limit, but Ms. Yellen said lower-than-expected tax revenue has forced the date forward.

Since January, the Treasury Department has undertaken “extraordinary measures” to stave off default after the government hit its $31.4 trillion borrowing capacity. Those emergency tactics give the government only enough room to cover day-to-day expenses.

House Republicans have long demanded spending cuts in exchange for lifting the debt ceiling, and they approved legislation last week to achieve that goal. The GOP bill would raise the debt ceiling by $1.5 trillion until May 2024 in exchange for $4.8 trillion in spending cuts.

Apart from raising the debt limit, the Republican bill would cut federal spending by $130 billion for the upcoming fiscal year and limit budget growth to 1% annually over the next decade. It also rescinds at least $90.5 billion in unspent pandemic relief, imposes new work requirements on welfare, cancels Mr. Biden’s student loan forgiveness program, and scraps $200 billion in green-energy tax credits.

Democrats say the GOP’s bill is a non-starter. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer has called it dead on arrival, while House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries is floating a petition to force a vote on a clean debt-ceiling bill against Mr. McCarthy’s wishes.

Mr. Jeffries, New York Democrat, said officially the maneuver was to give lawmakers a backup option if talks fail between Mr. McCarthy and the White House.

“House Democrats are working to ensure we have all options at our disposal to avoid a default,” Mr. Jeffries wrote in a letter to Democratic lawmakers. “The filing of a debt ceiling measure to be brought up on the discharge calendar preserves an important option.”

To succeed, at least 218 lawmakers would need to back the seldom-used petition in the narrowly controlled GOP House. At the moment, Republicans hold 222 seats to the Democrats’ 218, meaning at least five GOP lawmakers would need to buck Mr. McCarthy.

While the prospects of such defections appear unlikely, Mr. McCarthy’s position was buoyed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday.

Shortly after Mr. Jeffries’ pitch was made public, Mr. McConnell said he would not provide the nine votes necessary to pass a clean debt ceiling bill in the 51-49 Senate.

“The message to the president at this point is pretty clear,” said Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “You got a choice between accepting the House bill or entering into a discussion, which the speaker has been trying to have with the president for some time.”

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