McCarthy says ‘every hour matters’ on debt ceiling as lawmakers set to leave town


(WASHINGTON) — With just seven days until potential default, House members are heading home for Memorial Day recess — without a debt ceiling deal in sight.

“Every hour matters,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy told ABC News Senior Congressional Correspondent Rachel Scott on Thursday. “That’s why the White House has to become very serious about this.”

McCarthy refused to say whether Republican and White House negotiators will meet Thursday as the countdown continues toward June 1 — the date Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen predicts the U.S. may become unable to pay all of its bills.

The speaker still expressed optimism the two sides will come to an agreement.

“We worked well past midnight last night,” McCarthy said. “And yesterday, I thought, was a very good day. We made some progress. There are still some outstanding issues, and I’ve directed our teams to work 24/7 to try to solve this problem.”

Even if a debt ceiling deal is reached, Congress faces a serious time crunch to pass legislation before the end of the month. After a bill is drafted, McCarthy’s pledging to give House members 72 hours to review it, a concession he offered to conservative hardliners roadblocking his speakership vote at the start of this year. Then the Senate will have to take up the bill before it goes to President Joe Biden’s desk.

Complicating the matter further is the Memorial Day recess. The House is expected to gavel out Thursday, and the Senate left town last week, though leadership in both chambers has directed lawmakers to be prepared to return to Washington immediately if a deal is struck.

Several Democrats have voiced frustration in recent days over the status of negotiation, with House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., dinging McCarthy’s plans to adjourn.

“It’s my understanding that the designees of both President Biden as well as Speaker McCarthy will continue to talk, but it is unfortunate that House Republicans have chosen to get out of town before sundown,” said in a news conference.

Jeffries hit Republicans for a “manufactured crisis” over the debt ceiling, accusing the party of holding the economy hostage.

“Republicans are driving us down a dangerous road of default,” Jeffries said in a news conference. “Or have presented the American people with another unacceptable choice, which is devastating cuts to children, devastating cuts to Medicaid, devastating cuts to nutrition, devastating cuts to education, devastating cuts to public safety and devastating cuts to our veterans.”

Congressional Progressive Caucus leader Rep. Pramila Jayapal voiced similar concerns, warning Wednesday that progressives “are not going to take a deal that hurts working people.”

Jeffries said Thursday Biden “is continuing to hold the line” on the spending cuts Republicans are seeking.

As the politics play out, credit rating agency Fitch warned Thursday it was putting U.S. credit rating on watch for a possible downgrade.

Pressed for his reaction, McCarthy said he wasn’t concerned.

“I am concerned about, at the end of the day, if you do not have a deal worthy of the American public, you should be worried about Fitch. I’m not,” he said.

-ABC News’ Alexandra Hutzler contributed to this report.

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