Congress Is Running Out of Days to Act on the Debt Ceiling

Congressional leaders negotiating over a deal to raise the debt ceiling and avoid the first default in the nation’s history are working against an unforgiving force: the legislative calendar.

President Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s meeting on Tuesday afternoon to try to break their impasse over increasing the cap comes just over two weeks before the projected “X-date” of June 1 — the day the Treasury Department has projected it could no longer pay the United States government’s debts.

Even if they are able to reach a deal, Mr. McCarthy and Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, would need to navigate legislation reflecting that agreement through their respective chambers — and the days left to do so are rapidly dwindling.

At least for now, the House is scheduled to be in session — present in the Capitol and ready to vote — for only six more days before the end of the month. The Senate is set for just five, and is scheduled to be out of Washington beginning on Monday ahead of the Memorial Day weekend.

House and Senate leaders could cancel lawmakers’ scheduled recesses, scuttling Memorial Day plans and keeping them in Washington to vote on a deal. But Mr. Biden’s schedule is another complication: He’s set to depart for Japan on Wednesday to attend the Group of 7 meeting, and afterward plans to travel to Australia.

All that leaves precious little time for striking a deal, enshrining it in legislation, maneuvering it past procedural hurdles and cobbling together the votes to clear it for Mr. Biden’s signature.

Senators are prepared to cut short their Memorial Day recess and return to Washington if it becomes necessary to approve a deal on the debt limit, Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the second-ranking Republican, told reporters on Tuesday.

“Members are prepared for all kinds of different scenarios right now,” he said, noting that “the stakes get really high” if negotiators cannot strike a deal by this weekend.

Mr. Schumer called a default the “nightmare scenario.”

“We all know these things are fast approaching the closer we get to June 1,” he said. “Congress cannot, under any circumstances, fail its obligation to protect the full faith and credit of the United States.”

Karoun Demirjian contributed reporting.

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