By Clare Foran, Manu Raju, Melanie Zanona, Haley Talbot, Alayna Treene, Lauren Koenig and Lauren Fox, CNN
Washington (CNN) — White House and House GOP negotiators are racing to finalize a deal to raise the nation’s debt limit with time running perilously short and the risk of a first-ever US default growing.
There have been some signs that talks have progressed in recent days, and negotiators are hoping to announce an agreement as soon as Saturday, according to a person familiar with the matter.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy arrived at the US Capitol on Saturday morning after his top Republican negotiators, Reps. Garret Graves of Louisiana and Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, had worked late into the night drafting the final details of a deal from the speaker’s office.
“I feel closer to an agreement now than I did a long time before, because I see progress. But listen, this is not easy in any shape or form. But that doesn’t back us away from it,” McCarthy told reporters at the Capitol.
The California Republican said he’d like to hold a vote on a debt limit bill as soon as Tuesday, which would mean negotiators would need to announce a deal and send legislative text to lawmakers by Saturday.
Asked by CNN if he was confident he could get the full House GOP Caucus behind him following an agreement, McCarthy said: “Do you ever think you’re going to get every single member to vote for it? I didn’t get every single member to vote for the first one. I didn’t get every single member to vote for me for speaker.”
But McCarthy maintained he’d be able to get the majority of House Republicans on board, telling CNN, “I don’t think I’ll have any problem with that.”
While nothing is final, negotiators made some progress on a provision to impose new work requirements on certain social safety net programs, two sources familiar with the matter told CNN.
Spending cuts on domestic programs were another issue that negotiators worked to sort out late Friday night, but It’s unclear if the dispute has been fully resolved.
Energy permitting reform, which aims to cut down the time it takes for new projects to get approved, remains a high priority for Graves. The issue pits environmentalists against the oil and gas industry and has divided congressional Democrats.
McHenry said earlier Saturday that he and Graves had returned to McCarthy’s office, where they are meeting virtually with the White House. Friday’s negotiations broke off in the early morning hours Saturday.
McHenry said negotiators have a “very narrow set of issues that has to be dealt with” before they can reach a deal, which he said was still “hours or days away.”
People involved in the process said earlier they felt confident the issues could be resolved in a timely manner.
It’s unclear when the final bill text will be released. If a deal does come together and legislation is posted on Saturday, a House floor vote could occur as soon as Tuesday. Then it would take several days to move through the Senate.
It’s an ambitious timeline, and the process of turning a framework into an actual bill can be laborious. New issues could easily crop up at each step along the way, and each step has the potential to be time-consuming, running out the clock ahead of the debt limit deadline early next month. The two sides, however, have been trying to firm up the legislative text as they’ve gone along in a bid to speed up that process.
“House Republicans have a bill that we passed out of the House to raise the debt ceiling. So we have legislative text that is wide and complete. And so that is a helpful baseline when you’re getting into a window like this,” McHenry said Saturday.
Selling the deal to members will be no small task, with stiff opposition expected from both the left and right. That means it’s going to require an intense whipping operation – and support from both sides of the aisle – to get the bill over the finish line.
One of the most critical issues has been reaching a deal over spending cuts, which Republicans have demanded in exchange for voting to raise the debt limit. But there have also been major disagreements over other issues such as work requirements for social safety net programs, which Republicans have pushed for and Democrats have pushed back on.
“Hell no,” Graves told CNN on Friday when asked if Republicans were willing to drop work requirements on social safety net programs to get a deal on the debt ceiling. “Hell no, not a chance,” he said and suggested the issue centers on work rules for food stamps and temporary assistance programs for needy families, not Medicaid.
The pressure on negotiators is intense as the US steadily inches closer to the possibility of a default and the threat of economic catastrophe.
In a major development Friday that will give lawmakers more time to reach and pass a deal, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said that Congress must address the debt ceiling by June 5 or the government will not have enough funds to pay all of the nation’s obligations in full and on time. Previously, Yellen had estimated that the earliest possible date a default could occur was June 1.
McHenry said the Yellen’s new date “clarifies that our timeline is very tight.”
“House Republicans asked for clarification. Chip Roy and Matt Gaetz and Byron Donalds and Dan Bishop, among others, asked for clarification on Secretary Yellen’s math. She updated her math. Obviously, it was a good request. And I think it clarifies our window for us to actually achieve the deal,” he said Saturday.
Debt limit predictions, however, aren’t clear-cut. Rather than a set-in-stone deadline, it is more of a best-guess estimate, which makes it harder to know exactly how much time Congress has to act to avert potential financial catastrophe.