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Biden and lawmakers postpone debt ceiling meeting as their staffs keep negotiating

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Washington is inching closer to a June 1 deadline to lift the nation's borrowing limit or run out of cash to pay America's debts. President Biden wants Congress to allow more borrowing without conditions. Republicans want Democrats to agree to deep spending cuts. Republican Representative Nancy Mace of South Carolina is on the line now to discuss all this. Good morning, Congresswoman, and thank you for being on the program.

NANCY MACE: Good morning. Yeah, thank you for having me.

FADEL: So President Biden and top congressional leaders delayed a second meeting that was set for today, and it seemed like little headway was actually made during that first meeting. At this point, do you think a deal is possible? Are you optimistic?

MACE: I am always going to be cautiously optimistic. You know, there is precedent in recent history where we've had a Democrat president and Republican-controlled House where they've worked together to figure this out. And we're not going to run out of money to pay our debts. I mean, when you look at the amount of tax revenue, No. 1, that's coming in year over year, we have 11 times the amount needed to pay the interest on the debt. We're not going to default unless the president decides to because he can prioritize spending. But in the meantime, you know, we need to figure out a way to balance the budget over the next - I don't know - 10, 15, 16 years.

FADEL: I would just like to point out, though, that Secretary - the secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen, says we will be running out of cash as soon as June 1.

MACE: Right. Well, here's the thing. We can prioritize. The president can prioritize spending. We're not going to run out of money to pay the interest on the debt because we get 11 times the interest on the debt and tax revenues year over year. It is a false statement equivocally to say that we're going to default on June 1. That doesn't have to happen unless President Biden wants it to.

FADEL: Now...

MACE: And those are just the facts. But the facts also remain that the last time the budget was balanced was under a Democrat president. Republicans in '94 had a 10-year plan to balance the budget, happened in four years under President Clinton's leadership because there was a surplus. I have a plan that would balance the budget in five years and realize that's a bit aggressive for most people in Washington. They don't move that fast. But I would even take 20 years at this point, something to show responsible decisions about the way we spend the American taxpayer dollar.

FADEL: But at this point, there is a danger that the country will default. And, you know, I understand that you are saying that the...

MACE: We won't have to unless the president wants to.

FADEL: ...It won't happen unless the president wants to, but he says that...

MACE: He can prioritize spending without cutting money for veterans...

FADEL: I understand, but...

MACE: ...Or Medicaid or Medicare, Social Security.

FADEL: Now, President Biden also accuses your party of being the problem here, holding the economy hostage by tying it to these deep spending cuts. Do you think the Republican Party should be...

MACE: Well, when you look at $12 trillion in debt...

FADEL: Can I just ask the question?

MACE: ...Over the last 6 years, under President Biden - I'm answering your question...

FADEL: Yeah.

MACE: ...'Cause you don't want to deal with the facts this morning. And those are the facts. This is the problem with media. They don't want to go down the middle and show...

FADEL: No, I'm sharing facts.

MACE: ...Show fair and square both sides.

FADEL: I don't appreciate that. I'd like to start with the - go back to the brinksmanship, 'cause in the end, this is about Americans for both parties. I think a lot of Americans are worried, Republican or Democrat. They're nervous. What happens to - about my mortgage? What happens with my job if the country defaults? And they wonder, is anybody...

MACE: Well, then you can lay that blame on the president of the United States for not taking responsible measures to rein in spending. The reason we have inflation is because of the spending that we've had in both parties, by the way. President Biden added $4 trillion to the debt in the last two years. President Trump added 8 trillion during his tenure. So just over the last six years - $12 trillion in debt alone. We have $32 trillion now in total put on by both parties. And so I would hope that the American people would hold both sides accountable for the debacle that we're facing today. But if we don't cut taxes and we don't cut spending and the Federal Reserve doesn't slow down the amount of money they're printing year over year, we wouldn't be in this problem. So we've got to face the music, and both sides have to come together to figure this out...

FADEL: And one of the issues you had...

MACE: ...And rein it in.

FADEL: Right, one of the issues you had with your own party's bill was that it didn't deal with a balanced budget, but you eventually did get behind it. What changed?

MACE: Yeah, I got to deal with the leadership to get a balanced budget amendment, to get that conversation. But, you know, you want to talk about deep spending cuts in your intro. And these weren't really that deep spending cuts. We're talking about $6.2 trillion versus $6.3 trillion, a difference in spending this year over last year. The cuts, in my opinion, didn't go deep enough, which is why I advocated for a balanced budget amendment. I mean, this is a plan that would - you know, Democrats would go off the deep end at 80mph versus Republicans going off at 70mph. This is a problem started by both parties, and they both need to sit down and fix it.

FADEL: That's Republican Representative Nancy Mace of South Carolina. Thank you so much for your time.

FADEL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.