May 24, 2023 Latest on debt ceiling negotiations

By Mike Hayes, Maureen Chowdhury and Elise Hammond, CNN

Updated 9:16 PM ET, Wed May 24, 2023
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5:04 p.m. ET, May 24, 2023

All 213 House Democrats have signed discharge petition, leaders say, but there's no GOP support

From CNN's Alayna Treene and Haley Talbot

All 213 House Democrats have signed onto a discharge petition Wednesday that can be used as a vehicle to bypass House GOP leadership and force a vote to raise the debt ceiling, leaders announced.

The party took a key procedural step earlier this month to begin setting up the process that would enable House Democrats to bring up a discharge petition. 

However, a majority of House members, 218, need to sign onto the bill in order for it to pass, meaning Democrats would need at least five Republican representatives to support it. As of now, no House Republicans have indicated they plan to sign on, and it remains extremely unlikely the petition could get the votes to pass on the House floor.

"House Democrats have provided a vehicle in this reckless and dangerous default crisis, and avoid the economy crashing,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said during a news conference. He also called on moderate Republicans who have said they want to avoid a default to join Democrats in their effort.

4:51 p.m. ET, May 24, 2023

Some Americans say they are worried about a potential debt default

From CNN's Alicia Wallace

Americans who are already trying to navigate persistently high inflation, soaring interest rates, banking turmoil and recession fears are now faced with trying to prepare for the “unthinkable:” a potential US debt default.

Earlier this month, Kimberly Dickerson called up her creditors, asking about contingency plans in the event that her Social Security Disability check doesn’t land in June.

“The only way I can say it is, it’s going to be catastrophic,” said Dickerson, 52, of Richmond, Virginia.

Debt ceiling negotiations are continuing on Capitol Hill as a deadline of default looms larger by the day. Average Americans are taking notice and trying their best to protect themselves and their livelihoods.

A cross-section of Americans told CNN they’re becoming increasingly worried not only about the threat of the US defaulting on some or all of its financial responsibilities but also the effects of any spending cuts made in negotiations.

Teri House of Kansas met with a financial adviser about whether she could bear the cost if her elderly mother’s federal assistance is interrupted, putting the Navy veteran’s established memory care services at risk.

“She served her country and her community,” House said. “Why can’t her country serve her?”

Meanwhile, just outside Detroit, veteran Christopher Land is nervous too. He said his family would immediately feel the impacts of a failed debt ceiling negotiation, and he’s concerned about what it would mean for his fellow residents in need.

“Our retirement savings were wiped out by medical debts years ago,” said Land, 41, whose wife is disabled. “A default could be really bad for us. I’m employed by a city government. We are on public assistance. We have loans. We’re living on the right side of the paycheck-to-paycheck line, but not by a lot.”

In Tucson, Arizona, Alejandro Terrazas fears he may lose a chunk of his retirement savings and rainy day funds if the impasse continues.

“I’m getting up there in years, but I’m not ready to retire probably for 10 more years, and if it’s some temporary thing, I won’t make any moves,” said Terrazas, 60. “But most of my money in retirement is in the stock market, except for the house I own.”

Read what other Americans are saying.

4:46 p.m. ET, May 24, 2023

McCarthy: House members should stay close to DC over holiday weekend in case of vote on a debt ceiling deal

From CNN's Nicky Robertson

 House Speaker Kevin McCarthy speaks with reporters moments after returning from a meeting with President Joe Biden and other congressional leaders at the White House to discuss the debt ceiling, on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, May 16, in Washington, DC.
 House Speaker Kevin McCarthy speaks with reporters moments after returning from a meeting with President Joe Biden and other congressional leaders at the White House to discuss the debt ceiling, on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, May 16, in Washington, DC. Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/Getty Images

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said that members should plan to be close to Washington, DC, over Memorial Day weekend so they can return to vote on a debt-ceiling deal if necessary. 

“Whatever decision we make members are going to have to be able to stay close to be able to come back,” McCarthy said in an interview on Fox Business Wednesday afternoon.  

McCarthy reiterated that the only “stumbling block” in the negotiations with the Democrats is spending.

Republican negotiators spent about four hours with their White House counterparts today at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

McCarthy said he spoke to his team half an hour before the interview.

“I just talked to them 30 minutes ago, I think today they would say they’re making progress,” McCarthy said. 

At the outset of the interview, McCarthy said “things are going a little better.”

4:39 p.m. ET, May 24, 2023

Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal lays out 4 White House proposals Republicans have rejected

From CNN's Annie Grayer

Representative Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington, during a news conference at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, May 24, 2023. 
Representative Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington, during a news conference at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, May 24, 2023.  Al Drago/Bloomberg/Getty Images

House Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal said Wednesday that the White House told her that House Republicans have rejected $3 trillion worth of policies that would have gone toward deficit reduction throughout the debt ceiling negotiations process.

The policies proposed by the White House that House GOP has rejected:

  • Ending tax subsidies for big oil that would have brought in $31 billion
  • Closing the carried interest and other tax loopholes that would have raised more than $60 billion
  • Increasing the number of drugs that Medicare can negotiate prices for that would have saved $200 billion
  • A billionaire minimum tax and a corporate global minimum tax would bring in almost $1 trillion

Progressives called on their Republican colleagues to join them in signing a discharge petition to raise a clean debt ceiling. Asked by CNN if any Republicans seem willing to cross party lines and buck House GOP leadership, Jayapal said, “There is going to be a moment here, and it’s coming very, very soon” where Republicans are going to have to make a choice. 

Jayapal also called on President Biden to use the 14th amendment if House GOP continues to refuse to sign onto any revenue-raising policies or onto a discharge petition. 

4:16 p.m. ET, May 24, 2023

Debt limit negotiators leave meeting at Eisenhower building

From CNN's DJ Judd

Negotiators were spotted leaving the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Wednesday afternoon as House Republicans and the White House work to come to an agreement on the debt ceiling.

White House negotiators Steve Ricchetti and Louisia Terrell and House GOP negotiator Rep. Patrick McHenry were in the group.

They assembled at noon Wednesday to continue discussions on the debt limit, CNN’s Arlette Saenz reported earlier today.

4:14 p.m. ET, May 24, 2023

Dow closes around 250 points lower

From CNN's Nicole Goodkind

US stocks fell on Wednesday, with the Dow ending the day down by around 250 points as Wall Street appeared to be waking up to the growing possibility of a default.

There are just four trading days left until Janet Yellen’s June 1 “hard deadline" for the United States to raise the debt ceiling or risk defaulting on its obligations.

Treasury yields, meanwhile, moved higher across the curve Wednesday as worries of a default grew.

Minutes from the Federal Reserve’s May policymaking meeting, released Wednesday afternoon, did little to buoy investors’ outlooks.

The meeting notes showed that central bank policymakers were divided at their last meeting as to whether or not another rate hike was needed to slow the economy and cool inflation. Officials also expressed worries about the United States defaulting on its debt, and Fed economists also reaffirmed their forecast of a mild recession later in the year.

4:10 p.m. ET, May 24, 2023

Yellen says she will try to narrow forecast for debt default "X-date"

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen appears before the Senate Appropriations Committee during a hearing to review the fiscal year 2024 budget for the Department of the Treasury, on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday, March 22.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen appears before the Senate Appropriations Committee during a hearing to review the fiscal year 2024 budget for the Department of the Treasury, on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday, March 22. Haiyun Jiang/The New York Times/Redux

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Wednesday that she will try to be more precise about when the nation could start missing payments in her next advisory to Congress.

But she repeated that it’s tough to pinpoint the X-date, when the nation may not be able to satisfy all its bills, even a few weeks in advance because of the inherent uncertainty of incoming revenue and outgoing obligations.

“I will plan to update Congress shortly and try to increase the level of precision,” Yellen said in virtual comments at The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council conference. “It's hard to be precise about exactly which day we will run out of resources. [It] seems almost certain that we will not be able to get past early June.”

In her letter to Congress on Monday, she said it is “highly likely that Treasury will no longer be able to satisfy all of the government’s obligations if Congress has not acted to raise or suspend the debt limit by early June, and potentially as early as June 1.”

She stressed on Wednesday that if negotiations between the White House and House Republicans fail to produce a deal in time, “there will be some difficult choices to make.”

“Treasury and President Biden will face very tough choices if Congress doesn't act to raise the debt ceiling,” Yellen said. “And if we hit the so-called X-date without that occurring, there will be some obligations that we will be unable to pay.” 

The secretary declined to detail exactly what Treasury can do in terms of payments, but said that “as a general matter, prioritization is not really something that's operationally feasible.”

“Our payment systems have been constructed in order to pay our bills, not to decide which bills to pay and which bills not to pay,” she said.

Treasury has sent a memo to federal agencies asking if they can delay making certain payments to conserve cash, a source familiar with the matter told CNN. The Washington Post first reported on the memo.

Some House Republicans, however, don’t think that the true deadline is on June 1. They argue that Yellen should be more “transparent” about her forecasts.

“It looks like they're hedging now and opening up the door to move that date back,” House Majority Leader Steve Scalise said Tuesday.

Multiple analyses have estimated that the X-date will probably occur in early June, but not necessarily June 1. The Bipartisan Policy Center on Tuesday projected that Treasury will most likely lack the cash to meet all of its obligations sometime between early June and early August, with an “elevated risk” between June 2 and June 13.

If Treasury can continue paying the bills into the middle of next month, then it’s likely the government won’t default until later in the summer. The agency will get another injection of funds from second quarter estimated tax payments, which are due June 15, and from $145 billion in an “extraordinary measure” that becomes available at the end of that month.

CNN’s Alayna Treene and Kristin Wilson contributed to this report.

4:11 p.m. ET, May 24, 2023

White House says negotiators are "absolutely empowered" to negotiate on behalf of Biden in debt limit talks

From CNN's DJ Judd

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Wednesday, May 24.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Wednesday, May 24. Evan Vucci/AP

White House negotiators are “absolutely empowered” to negotiate on behalf of President Joe Biden in the debt limit discussions, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Wednesday, pushing back against reports that the negotiators have been hamstrung by the White House.

“They’re absolutely empowered – this is a team that the president selected himself, these are long-term advisers, long-time advisers, I should say, to the president,” Jean-Pierre said.

Pressed in a follow-up question by CNN’s Phil Mattingly, Jean-Pierre declined to weigh in on what the White House thinks of lead House GOP negotiators Patrick McHenry and Garret Graves.

“What I can say is that the negotiations have been productive, which is what matters, and the conversations continue, which is what matters,” she said.

Discussions between lead negotiators are still underway at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Jean-Pierre added.

3:09 p.m. ET, May 24, 2023

Why a key credit rating provider is confident America won't suffer its first-ever default

From CNN’s Matt Egan

Even though time is running out to get a debt ceiling deal through Congress, one of the key players that will decide the fate of America’s credit rating is convinced disaster will be averted.

“We absolutely don’t think there will be a scenario where we cross the X-date and interest payments will be missed,” William Foster, senior vice president and senior credit officer at Moody’s Investors Service, told CNN on Wednesday. “If we did, we would obviously have to change our view on the rating.”

Even though there are just eight days to go before the government could run out of cash, Foster said Moody’s is confident the federal government will not suffer a first-ever default.

“If we were less confident, we would change our outlook to negative,” Foster said.

The coming days and weeks could test that confidence.

House Republicans and the White House are, so far, struggling to find a compromise on how to raise the debt ceiling. Cash levels at the US Treasury are dwindling and the accounting gimmicks officials are using to avoid default won’t last much longer.

Wall Street is even starting to wake up to the debt ceiling dangers ahead, with the stock market finally buckling a bit following days of calm.

Asked why he is confident the United States won’t default, Foster pointed to historical precedent, adding, “There has never been a default.”

The Moody’s executive also referenced comments from Republican and Democrat leaders alike about the importance of America paying its bills.

“The message is clear: Neither side intends to default,” Foster said. “We’re expecting the noise to be pretty loud but fundamentally the outcome to be the same.”

However, given the tight timetable between now and the June 1 deadline set by the Treasury Department, Moody’s isn’t ruling out the idea that the federal government could be forced to delay payments on other items beyond payments to bondholders.