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Biden meets with congressional leaders as debt limit deadline looms

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Time is running out to raise the debt limit, but President Biden says he does feel confident that they will reach a deal after meeting with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: There is still - there's still work to do, and I made it clear to the speaker and others that we'll speak regularly over the next several days, and the staff is going to continue meeting daily to make sure we do not default.

CHANG: There are signs of increasing worry about this issue, and Biden is making changes to a big international trip that he starts tomorrow. NPR's Franco Ordoñez joins us now from the White House with the latest. Hey, Franco.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK, so we're just a couple weeks away from a deadline where the government would run out of money to pay its bills. Are the president and congressional leaders getting closer to a deal?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, there were no major breakthroughs reported, nor were they really expected, but both sides spoke positively about the negotiations today and said they were improving. For one, they actually agreed to reduce the number of people involved in the negotiations. And House Speaker Kevin McCarthy spoke positively about that change, saying it would set the stage for more productive talks.

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KEVIN MCCARTHY: You know, we only have 15 days, really, to go. We've got to find a way that we can curve our spending, raise our debt limit and also grow our economy. And the president agreed to appoint a couple of people from his administration to sit down and negotiate directly with my team, so I found that to be productive, personally.

CHANG: Productive - OK, well, did they talk about where there was common ground today? Like, do we know any details about what went on in that room?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, we don't know whether they made any progress on some of the key sticking points, like new work requirements that Republicans want for Medicaid and for food assistance. But they did find some common ground in possibly pulling back some of the COVID aid money that has not been spent. And, again, they streamlined the negotiations to involve just White House aides and the speaker's team. Before, Ailsa, the negotiations involved aides from all four congressional leaders, so it was a lot. And McCarthy - he said he was optimistic about that change. But - and I really don't think I can emphasize enough - there really is not much time to get all this done. And as you know, the president leaves tomorrow for Japan.

CHANG: Exactly. I mean, the administration is warning that, if they miss this deadline and there is a default, that it would be a disaster for the economy. Is this really the best time for the president to go on a foreign trip?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, the president will be at the G-7 in Japan over the weekend. He says he really wants to speak about Ukraine and the climate as well as the strength of the international economy. He was actually supposed to then continue on to Australia, but he said today, this afternoon, that he was canceling the second half of the trip because of these talks. He said that reaching a deal on the debt limit is his top priority right now, and he added that he will, though, stay in touch with the speaker and that their staffs will meet daily while he's in Japan.

CHANG: OK. Well, today, there's pressure coming from a group of influential business leaders to reach a deal. How does that pressure affect these talks now?

ORDOÑEZ: You know, it's a big deal. Wall Street has actually been pretty quiet on all this. You know, they don't want to come across as partisan in any way. So the fact that they're stepping in now and putting their thumb on the scale is just another signal of how urgent this matter is. About 150 business leaders signed a letter to both the president and congressional leaders, and there are some big names on it - CEOs of Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, NASDAQ, you know? And they did not exactly say what they want the leaders to do to reach a deal, but they did emphasize that action was needed, and it was needed very fast.

CHANG: A lot of people agree with that. That is NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Thank you, Franco.

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

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.