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Biden says debt limit deal is a compromise but still protects Democratic priorities

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales has been following the ups and downs on Capitol Hill, and she joins us now. Good morning, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Good morning, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So what can you tell us about this agreement?

GRISALES: We're seeing details still emerging. Speaker McCarthy briefed members about the outlines of the plan, and text is still being written. Now, in the final stages of talks, we could see clues of this deal emerging. It was a tense scene for negotiators at the Capitol as we saw members going in and out of McCarthy's office from early in the morning to late into the night these last few days. So there's a lot less talking to reporters, more talking behind closed doors. And McCarthy said he and President Biden spoke twice yesterday ahead of these details you mentioned where we will see this cap on nondefense spending into next year and other agreements in exchange to raise the debt ceiling for two years. So that's after the presidential election.

RASCOE: So what were the wins that Republicans were touting?

GRISALES: We obtained a one-page summary House Republican leaders were circulating among their conference last night. That sheet listed out plans to limit top-line federal spending to 1% annual growth for the next six years, the clawback of $400 million in unspent pandemic relief funds and new efforts to revamp the budgeting process. And as we mentioned, we're also expecting to see some changes to some work requirements for federal assistance, such as the SNAP food assistance program, changes which President Biden fought against. And McCarthy also talked about some more of these elements in the plan.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEVIN MCCARTHY: It has historic reductions in spending, consequential reforms that will lift people out of poverty into the workforce, rein in government overreach. There are no new taxes, no new government programs.

GRISALES: And there were losses for Democrats. For example, they proposed new taxes on corporations and wealthier Americans to raise revenue, but that did not hold.

RASCOE: So what elements of the agreement did President Biden point to?

GRISALES: In a statement, Biden said this is an important step forward to reduce spending while still protecting critical programs for working people in the growing economy. He said this deal still protects key Democratic priorities, but at the same time, it represents a compromise. And that means not everyone gets what they want. And that's the responsibility of government. He said, ultimately, it prevents what would have been a catastrophic default that would have had devastating impacts on the economy. So he urged the deal's passage in both chambers of Congress.

RASCOE: So we have a deal, but that doesn't mean the work is over. Now McCarthy has to make sure he has enough lawmakers to vote for it, right?

GRISALES: Right. Yes. In the House, there's been little expectation that the more liberal Democrats and hard-right Republicans would support this plan. We're already seeing loud complaints from the conservative House Freedom Caucus. So McCarthy does not need everyone, but he does need to pass it with Democrats' help, especially if we see some Republicans say they're going to vote no. So no one will be breathing easy until it passes both the House and Senate before the June 5 date. This is when Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the country would breach the debt ceiling and go into default without an agreement in place.

RASCOE: OK. So we're just about a week away from that date. What should we expect in the coming days?

GRISALES: A flurry of action. The bill could come today. So that gives House lawmakers 72 hours to review it before a vote, and that could come as early as Wednesday. This is assuming it gains the majority of support in the House and is off to the Senate. But this is the real test now, how members react to the specifics in the legislation and if there's any significant revolt. For example, we saw a lot of Democrats last night applaud the deal, but they say they need to see the text to make a final decision.

RASCOE: That's NPR's Claudia Grisales. Claudia, thank you so much.

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

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.