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The latest on negotiations over raising the debt ceiling

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy met last night and directed their teams to continue talking about a deal to raise the country's borrowing authority. But nine days before the Treasury secretary says the U.S. could run out of money to pay its bills, Louisiana Congressman Garret Graves, a top GOP negotiator, says there's still a long way from any agreement.

GARRET GRAVES: I'm telling you that we still have substantial distance between us and them on numbers right now.

SHAPIRO: NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh is here to talk about how both parties are feeling about taking up some kind of compromise. Hey, Deirdre.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: The speaker and the president both called their meeting productive. Are there signs they could be finding the outlines of a deal here?

WALSH: There are signs they're narrowing down the issues. The negotiating teams met for roughly two hours earlier today. But the big sticking point is still the Republican push for spending cuts. The House GOP bill that passed last month rolled back federal spending levels to those from two years ago. The White House is suggesting that they freeze spending levels to where they are now. But the message that we're hearing from the speaker and over and over again is he wants the country to be spending less than it's spending now, and he's not willing to raise the debt ceiling without those cuts.

SHAPIRO: The Republican majority in the House is so small. Is Speaker McCarthy holding his members together?

WALSH: He is. And many House Republicans, moderates and conservatives alike, say the speaker gained a lot of political capital inside the Republican conference by being able to pass that bill last month. And a lot of Republicans say the White House really underestimated McCarthy's ability to get something through. I talked to one House conservative, Georgia Republican Andrew Clyde. He was actually one of the holdouts in January who didn't initially vote for McCarthy for speaker. But now he's saying the speaker is doing a good job.

ANDREW CLYDE: We came up with a phenomenal plan. He is charging ahead with that plan. I think we are in a very strong position.

SHAPIRO: Easier to say before there's an actual plan on the table. Are they going to back a compromise?

WALSH: I mean, for now, they're saying, no way. They continue to say that Republicans passed the only bill that's gotten through a chamber. And like you said, without any details on a final deal, they can continue to say they're not going to support anything less. I would definitely expect a good chunk of those in the Freedom Caucus to vote no on any compromise. But the speaker has told reporters in the last couple days he does expect a large majority of House Republicans to back whatever he puts on the floor. Another House Republican, Dusty Johnson from South Dakota, heads up a group of centrists, and he told reporters today he thinks there is some openness to agreeing to some of what the White House wants.

DUSTY JOHNSON: As long as the deal changes how this town spends money, I think people are going to be open to considering some of what the White House wants to see as well.

SHAPIRO: OK, that's the Republican side of the ledger. Let's talk about the Democrats. Progressives have been pushing the president to use the 14th Amendment to get around having to compromise with the speaker. Would they support some kind of deal that cuts federal spending if that's what it comes down to?

WALSH: I mean, a lot of progressives say they're in no mood, and they really want to urge the president to hold the line and not give into any kind of compromise. One of those leading progressives, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, made it clear she's not going to vote for something, and she really hasn't heard from the White House asking her.

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Kevin McCarthy needs five votes. He can get them from somewhere, but he's not going to get it from me.

SHAPIRO: And what about more moderate Democrats?

WALSH: You know, there are moderates here who've been saying no one's going to be happy with a compromise in divided government, but it's all about avoiding default. One of those moderates, Minnesota Democrat Dean Phillips, said he thought the talks should have started earlier, but if something reaches the floor, he does expect to vote for it.

DEAN PHILLIPS: If it's a good deal and the right one for the country, that probably means you lose some Democrats and you lose some Republicans.

WALSH: The tricky part for both the speaker and the president right now is striking this balance to get enough votes from both parties in the end and get something to his desk.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Deirdre Walsh. Thank you.

WALSH: Thanks, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.