By LISA MASCARO, STEPHEN GROVES, SEUNG MIN KIM and KEVIN FREKING
WASHINGTON (AP) -- House Republicans pushed debt ceiling talks to the brink on Thursday, displaying risky political bravado in preparing to leave town for the holiday weekend just days before the U.S. could face an unprecedented default hurling the global economy into chaos.
However, Speaker Kevin McCarthy also said he had directed his negotiating team "to work 24/7 to solve this problem."
At the Capitol, McCarthy, R-Calif., said that "every hour matters" in talks with President Joe Biden's team as they try to work out a budget agreement. Republican are demanding spending cuts the Democrats oppose as their price for raising the legal debt limit.
In remarks at the White House, Biden said, "It's about competing versions of America." Yet both men expressed optimism that the gulf between their positions could be bridged.
The White House said that discussions with the Republicans have been productive, including by video conference Thursday, though serious disagreements remained as the president fights for his priorities.
"The only way to move forward is with a bipartisan agreement," Biden said. "And I believe we'll come to an agreement that allows us to move forward and protects the hardworking Americans of this country."
As the deadline nears, it's clear the Republican speaker -- who leads a Trump-aligned party whose hard-right flank lifted him to power -- is now staring down a potential crisis.
Lawmakers are tentatively not expected back at work until Tuesday, just two days from June 1, when Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said the U.S. could start running out of cash to pay its bills and face a federal default. The Senate is on recess and will be until after Memorial Day.
Meanwhile, Fitch Ratings agency placed the United States' AAA credit on "ratings watch negative," warning of a possible downgrade.
Democratic lawmakers lined up on the House floor as the workday ended to blame "extreme" Republicans for the risky potential default. "Republicans have chosen to get out of town before sundown," said House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York.
McCarthy is holding out for steep spending cuts that Republicans are demanding in exchange for their vote to raise the nation's borrowing limit. The White House has offered to freeze next year's 2024 spending at current levels and restrict 2025 spending, but the Republican leader says that's not enough.
Pressure is bearing down on McCarthy from the House's right flank Freedom Caucus not to give in to any deal, even if it means blowing past the June 1 deadline.
"Don't take an exit ramp five exits too early," said Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, a Freedom Caucus member. "Let's hold the line."
Failure to raise the nation's debt ceiling, now at $31 trillion, to pay America's already incurred bills would risk a potentially chaotic federal default. Anxious retirees and social service groups are among those already making default contingency plans.
Pushing a debt ceiling increase to the last minute is not uncommon for Congress, but it leaves little room for error in a volatile political environment. Both Democrats and Republicans will be needed to pass the final package in the split Congress.
Donald Trump, the former president who is again running for office, has encouraged Republicans to "do a default" if they don't get the deal they want from the White House.