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Biden met again with congressional leaders to negotiate raising the debt limit

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

President Biden met again with top congressional leaders to find a compromise to raise the nation's debt limit, and the clock is ticking. In 15 days, the country may run out of money to pay its bills, something Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warns could cause a recession.

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JANET YELLEN: It is essential that Congress act as soon as possible. In my assessment and that of economists across the board, a U.S. default would generate an economic and financial catastrophe.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh joins us now. Did they get any closer to a possible deal?

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: You know, potentially. Both Republican and Democratic leaders sounded more positive last night, even though they didn't really have any breakthrough in terms of what a compromise could end up looking like. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who's been really critical of the process leading up to yesterday's meeting, did shift his tone, which was not the case after the two sides met last week.

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KEVIN MCCARTHY: I did think this one was a little more productive. We're a long way apart. But what changed in this meeting was the president has now selected two people from his administration to directly negotiate with us.

WALSH: McCarthy said he thought it was possible to get a deal by the end of this week. He says that's the time frame needed to get a bill approved through both the House and the Senate before June 1. That's the date Yellen says the U.S. will hit its debt ceiling. McCarthy has tasked his team to meet with the White House team, these two new negotiators who are leading the talks. But he continues to say he doesn't support any short-term deal to avoid a default. There have been previous deals in times of divided government that could serve as a model this time, but getting something done in roughly two weeks is really a tall order.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, I know President Biden is supposed to go to Japan for the G-7 economic summit. He's still going - right? - but not the whole trip.

WALSH: Right. He has to cut his trip short because of these talks. He was scheduled to be overseas for eight days, but he's now planning to return early on Sunday. And he's skipping his planned visit to Australia. The president said he would come back for what he called the final negotiations, but he also said they have a lot of work to do.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, what about Democratic leaders? What are they saying about the talks?

YELLEN: You know, they're also calling Tuesday's session productive. Both Democratic leaders repeatedly declined to get into any kind of details about what they could or could not accept. But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer stressed a couple of areas of agreement.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: Everyone agreed that default would be the worst outcome, a horrible situation for America and America's families. But we also agreed that we need to pass a bipartisan bill with bipartisan support in both chambers.

MARTÍNEZ: So, Deirdre, what would a possible deal look like?

WALSH: We have some outlines, but there's still really a lot of major issues they haven't decided, like how long to lift the debt ceiling for. Republicans want to raise it into some time into next year. Democrats want to do it way past the 2024 election. And President Biden noted Republicans are still opposed to any kinds of tax increases in this deal, even though they're still pushing for these spending cuts. But the leaders and the president are talking about these spending caps for some period of time. They do seem to appear that they will agree to claw back roughly $60 billion in unspent COVID relief money. There's also some agreement about possibly including a provision that would expedite permits for new energy projects.

One big sticking point still in these talks is the Republicans' push to add new work requirements for adults without dependents who have - who are enrolled in federal safety net programs like food stamps. The president had expressed some openness to that. But many progressives I talked to yesterday in the Capitol said it - insisted it was just a nonstarter. There are some tricky decisions facing both the president and the speaker. So we'll just see what they can agree to that can get passed the House and the Senate.

MARTÍNEZ: Deirdre Walsh is NPR's congressional correspondent.

We'll talk again soon.

WALSH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.