WASHINGTON — President Biden, just moments before he departed on Wednesday for a diplomatic trip to Asia, said he was confident “America will not default” as congressional leaders in both parties offered some signs of optimism about eventually reaching a deal to raise the nation’s borrowing limit.
“Every leader in the room understands the consequences if we failed to pay our bills,” Mr. Biden said at the White House on Wednesday before leaving for Hiroshima, Japan, to attend the Group of 7 meeting there. “And it would be catastrophic for the American economy and the American people.”
Mr. Biden described his face-to-face meeting with congressional negotiators the day before as productive, “civil and respectful” and said both Democrats and Republicans agreed that the United States cannot default.
But his decision to get a final word in on the negotiations signaled that even as he departs for a summit on the global economy, the White House is focused on averting an economic crisis back home.
Mr. Biden decided to cut the trip to Asia short to be back for what he called “final negotiations” over the ceiling, the statutory cap on how much the government can borrow to finance its obligations. He is scheduled to return to Washington on Sunday, skipping planned visits to Papua New Guinea and Australia.
Mr. Biden echoed the optimism offered by both Democratic and Republican leaders after Tuesday’s meeting.
He has designated his senior adviser, Steve Ricchetti, and Shalanda Young, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, to speak to a team of negotiators representing congressional Republicans. Speaker Kevin McCarthy had also commended the move as a sign of progress on Tuesday.
“We narrowed the group to meet and hammer out our differences,” Mr. Biden said, adding that the negotiating teams met on Tuesday night and will meet again on Wednesday.
Time is running out for the two sides to reach a consensus.
The government reached the $31.4 trillion debt limit on Jan. 19, and the Treasury Department has been using a series of accounting maneuvers to keep paying its bills. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen reiterated that the United States could run out of money to pay its bills by June 1 if Congress does not raise or suspend the debt limit, potentially causing a recession or the elimination of jobs.
Republicans have said they want to cut federal spending before lifting the ceiling, while Mr. Biden has said negotiating over the cuts must not be a requirement for raising the debt limit. Even so, Democrats have increasingly appeared open to reaching a compromise with Republicans. Both Democratic leaders from New York, Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, and Representative Hakeem Jeffries, the minority leader, told reporters that passing a bipartisan bill in both chambers was the only way forward.
Mr. Biden signaled he was open to a potential agreement for tougher work requirements on federal aid programs over the weekend, when he reminded the press that he had voted for such measures — with the exception of Medicaid — as a senator.
Asked on Wednesday if he was still considering work requirements, Mr. Biden said it is possible, “but not anything of any consequence.”
“I’m not going to accept any work requirements that’s going to have an impact on the medical health needs of people,” Mr. Biden said.
Mr. Biden added that he did not believe cutting his overseas trip short would help China gain influence in the region. The administration has sought to bolster partnerships in the region to to counter China’s economic presence. But the ongoing talks forced Mr. Biden to cut stops in Papua New Guinea and Australia.
Mr. Biden said he made sure to call Prime Minister Anthony Albanese of Australia on Tuesday to let him know of his decision to cancel part of his trip. While officials in the administration were still deciding whether they would shorten the trip, they also discussed sending a replacement, including Vice President Kamala Harris or Antony J. Blinken, the secretary of state, according to an official familiar with the matter.
As of Wednesday morning, there were no such plans to send a substitute.