One day after meeting with congressional leaders to address raising the country’s borrowing power, President Joe Biden traveled to New York’s Hudson Valley on Wednesday to tout his administration’s economic agenda while condemning House Republicans’ demands to lift the debt ceiling.
“They refer to themselves as MAGA Republicans, and they’ve taken control of the House. They’ve taken control. They have a speaker who has his job because he yielded to the quote ‘MAGA’ element of the party,” Biden said, tagging Republicans with the “Make America Great Again” label derived from Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
“They’re doing, to the best of my knowledge, what no other political party has done in the nation’s history: They’re literally, not figuratively, holding the economy hostage by threatening to default on our nation’s debt," the president said.
Biden made the trek from Washington to Valhalla, N.Y., about a half-hour drive north of New York City, to talk about how his administration created nearly 13 million jobs and lowered the unemployment rate to 3.4%, while warning that House Republicans’ brinksmanship on the debt ceiling could threaten to undo that progress.
Republicans won’t raise the debt ceiling “unless we give into their threats and demands as to what they think we should be doing with regards to this default,” Biden said. “This would be incredibly damaging.”
Biden’s speech – on the campus of SUNY Westchester Community College – took place in a district he won in 2020 but is represented by a Republican in the House, Rep. Mike Lawler.
The freshman GOP lawmaker, a key target of Democrats in next year’s races in their effort to reclaim the House, told The Associated Press earlier this week that he accepted the White House’s invitation to attend Wednesday “maybe to their surprise.”
“He's coming to my district, specifically to talk about the most pressing issue,” Lawler said. The Republican lawmaker unseated Sean Patrick Maloney, who chaired the House Democrats’ campaign arm, in the 2022 midterms, one of the most notable upsets in last year’s elections.
“Nobody wants to see us default. Nobody wants to see us not raise the debt limit. But they also don’t want to see us continue to spend money that we don’t have,” the New York Republican said. “When I’m out talking to folks in my community, my district, by and large, they agree with my stance.”
“Mike’s on the other team, but you know what, Mike is the kind of guy that when I was in the Congress, he was the kind of Republican I used to deal with. But he’s not one of these MAGA Republicans,” Biden said. “I don’t want to get him in trouble by saying anything nice about him.”
Within minutes, the National Republican Congressional Committee had sent out a fundraising email boosting Biden’s comments.
“What he said,” NRCC spokesperson Savannah Viar said.
"I thanked him for the courtesy of showing up. I told him this wasn't designed to be anything other than lay out my position," Biden said at a press gaggle after the speech, describing a conversation he had with Lawler on the side." "We had a very brief discussion about the need for us to be level, not he and I, but with the Republican leadership. He told me that he thought that the speaker was willing to negotiate. I said I hope so."
The speech comes one day after Biden met with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and other congressional leaders to discuss lifting the debt ceiling ahead of an unofficial June 1 deadline to avert a first-ever default.
While Tuesday’s meeting ended without an accord, Biden and the top House and Senate leaders agreed to meet again Friday, with staff set to meet immediately in the interim. Biden characterized the meeting as “productive.”
“I told congressional leaders that I’m prepared to begin a separate discussion about my budget, spending priorities, but not under the threat of default,” Biden said Tuesday, adding that America not being able to fulfill its obligations “is not an option.”
In Wednesday’s speech, Biden laid out the projected consequences of a debt default: 8 million jobs lost, a recession, delayed Social Security checks and payments to veterans, and damage to the country’s international reputation as a default on U.S. debt, one of the most widely held investments in the world, could send the global economy spiraling.
“I’ve traveled the world. I’ve met with over 80 heads of state, 88 heads of state so far. They’re all looking at me: ‘Are you guys serious?’” Biden said. “Because if we default on our debt, the whole world is in trouble. This is a manufactured crisis.”
Biden argued he was ready to cut spending and reduce the deficit, the goal of House Republicans, but he continued to refuse to agree to anything in exchange for increasing the debt ceiling. The president and Democrats believe it’s too risky to even entertain the idea of a default if negotiations fail.
“We should be cutting spending and lowering the deficit without a needless crisis. In a responsible way,” Biden said, pointing toward a record-breaking decrease in the deficit during his first two years in office, a result of economic factors experts have said he can’t entirely take credit for. “I’m the only president in history that has lowered the deficit in those two years by a record $1.7 trillion — $1.7 trillion. And the budget I proposed back in March would cut the deficit again by nearly $3 trillion in the decade ahead.”
That reduction would be achieved by cutting tax subsidies for gas and oil companies and prescription drug prices, raising taxes on corporations and billionaires, and increasing funding for the Internal Revenue Service to boost tax collection.
“The average tax paid by the 1,000 billionaires in America, individually, the average tax paid is 8%. E-I-G-H-T,” Biden said. “No billionaire should be paying a lower tax rate than a school teacher or a firefighter.”
The Republican plan would raise the debt ceiling $1.5 trillion in exchange for capping spending at 2022 levels and allowing for only 1% budget increases annually. Cuts would affect nearly every aspect of the federal budget, bar Social Security and Medicare funding. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the plan would cut the deficit by roughly $3 trillion.
“We’re gonna win this fight,” Biden said as he concluded his remarks.
After his speech, the president was set to travel to New York City to attend campaign receptions.