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Debt ceiling talks to resume between Biden and top congressional leaders


President Biden plans to meet with congressional leaders today to talk about raising the debt ceiling. The federal government is only about two weeks away from running out of money to pay its bills, by a Treasury Department estimate. NPR congressional reporter Barbara Sprunt. is here to talk us through all this. Barbara, this is going to be the second debt ceiling discussion between the president and the Senate and House leaders. So what happened since they met a week ago?

BARBARA SPRUNT, BYLINE: White House aides and congressional leadership staff have been meeting to chart out possible courses here before the leaders were to meet again. Staff worked through the weekend on this. But yesterday, Speaker McCarthy told reporters he's not seeing what he sees as sufficient progress.


KEVIN MCCARTHY: It's very concerning to me. Look, I look at the days that it'd take to get to the House and to the Senate. You'd have to have something done by this - end of this week, and I just don't see the progress happening.

SPRUNT: And that's very different from what the president is saying. Over the weekend, President Biden told reporters he remains optimistic.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: It never is good to characterize a negotiation in the middle of a negotiation. I remain optimistic because I'm a congenital optimist, but I really think there's a desire on their part, as well as ours, to reach an agreement. And I think we'll be able to do it.

SPRUNT: So quite a divide here between the two leaders. A source familiar with the discussions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe these private negotiations, said it's not expected there will be a major breakthrough at today's meeting. Leaders will talk about where staff have found common ground and where they haven't.

MARTÍNEZ: I know Republicans passed a debt relief bill last month. How do the proposals in that bill fit into these negotiations?

SPRUNT: The legislation that House Republicans passed, which rolls back spending levels and limits the growth of federal spending, it would also repeal key provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act. That's Biden's signature bill that funds climate, health care and energy programs. The White House is trying hard to avoid any cuts to that. Top allies of Speaker McCarthy have signaled there are four areas which could serve as a framework for a compromise - spending caps for federal programs, clawing back roughly $60 billion in unspent COVID-19 funds, permitting reform that would speed up the approval for new energy projects and adding work requirements for adults without dependents who receive support from safety net programs like food stamps.

Now, the source familiar with discussions said there's potential areas for common ground on the unspent COVID aid and permitting reform, but said the president and McCarthy are still very far apart on spending caps, those new work requirements for Medicaid and food assistance, along with revenue raisers like closing loopholes in the tax code. And it's worth noting that Biden is leaving on Wednesday for the G-7 in Japan. So he's expected to receive daily updates while he's in Asia.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, though, has been warning that the U.S. could run out of money as early as June 1. Does that deadline still hold?

SPRUNT: It does. She sent a letter to all members of congressional leadership yesterday regarding the debt limit. She reiterated that timeline, saying the X date could come as early as June 1 and went on to say that concerns about a debt default can raise short-term borrowing costs and negatively impact the U.S. credit rating.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR congressional reporter Barbara Sprunt. Barbara, thanks.

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

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.
Barbara Sprunt is a producer on NPR's Washington desk, where she reports and produces breaking news and feature political content. She formerly produced the NPR Politics Podcast and got her start in radio at as an intern on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered and Tell Me More with Michel Martin. She is an alumnus of the Paul Miller Reporting Fellowship at the National Press Foundation. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania native.