White House and congressional Republican negotiators worked around the clock as Memorial Day weekend began to try to reach a deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling and avert a fiscal crisis, with complaints growing among the hard right that President Biden had gained the upper hand in the talks.
Representative Patrick T. McHenry, Republican of North Carolina and one of the lead negotiators, told reporters Saturday on Capitol Hill that the parties were either “hours or days” away from an agreement.
“I think we’re all tired,” said Mr. McHenry, who has been involved in negotiations for 11 days. “But that doesn’t mean that we’re willing to just take something that we think is not acceptable. Our House Republican members expect for us to fight for a good deal.”
After a late night of negotiations Friday that continued into Saturday morning, Speaker Kevin McCarthy returned to the Capitol from lunch with a box of takeout food for the dozens of reporters who had been camped outside in anticipation of news.
“I don’t know about today,” Mr. McCarthy said when asked whether an agreement might be reached Saturday. Mr. McCarthy nevertheless said he was “optimistic” about a deal, and that he would brief his members on the entire bill before briefing the press.
For days, top White House officials and Republican lawmakers have been closing in on a deal that would raise the debt limit for two years while imposing strict caps on discretionary spending not related to the military or veterans for the same period.
Mr. Biden began negotiating with Mr. McCarthy this month after weeks of insisting Congress should raise the debt ceiling with no strings attached. Democrats have accused Republicans of holding the economy hostage over their demand for deep spending cuts, while Republicans have raised concerns over the country’s growing federal debt, which stands at $31.4 trillion.
On Saturday it was becoming more apparent that Mr. McCarthy would need Democrats to support whatever deal he cuts with President Biden to pass the legislation, as lawmakers from the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus harshly criticized the contours of the emerging deal.
“Utter capitulation in progress. By the side holding the cards,” fumed Representative Dan Bishop, Republican of North Carolina and a member of the caucus.
Most lawmakers not directly involved in the negotiations have traveled home to their districts for the weeklong Memorial Day break, but 35 members of the Freedom Caucus have sought to pressure Mr. McCarthy not to back down from Republican demands to restrict federal spending for 10 years, repeal additional money for the Internal Revenue Service, cut clean energy tax credits and claw back unspent funds to combat Covid-19.
Mr. McCarthy said those criticizing the terms of the deal do not know its details, and Republican negotiators said they continued to stand firm on a demand to impose tougher work requirements for social safety net programs as part of a deal.
“Not a chance. Not happening,” Representative Garret Graves, Republican of Louisiana and one of the negotiators, told reporters Friday of the possibility of dropping the work demand.
But that will likely not be enough for the members of the House Freedom Caucus.
“If work requirements are what become the centerpiece of a ‘deal,’ then there should be no deal,” Representative Chip Roy, Republican of Texas and a member of the caucus, wrote on Twitter. “Talk about holding the wrong line.”
Mr. Bishop threatened legislative “war” against the deal if it amounts to little more than a “clean” increase to the debt ceiling that takes the issue off the table past the 2024 election.
Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said on Friday that the United States would run out of money to pay its bills by June 5, allowing a little more time than a previous estimate while maintaining the urgency for congressional leaders to reach a deal to raise or suspend the debt limit. A default would set off a cascade of potential problems for the American economy.
Democrats have sought to make sure the public would blame Republicans should the country default.
“MAGA Republicans have manufactured a default crisis — and it’s veterans, seniors and working families who will pay the price,” Representative Katherine M. Clark of Massachusetts, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, wrote on Twitter.