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Debt ceiling stalemate is one of the issues Biden and McCarthy will discuss

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

President Biden says he will not negotiate with Republicans over whether to pay the nation's debts. He's expected to hold firm on that position when he meets with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy at the White House today.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's the first time the two have met since McCarthy became speaker. They face a recurring problem that grows out of a quirk of American law. Congress effectively votes twice on federal spending. They vote once for popular federal programs and then vote separately to allow the unpopular borrowing to finance those same programs. Many lawmakers vote yes for one thing while voting no on the other. Speaker McCarthy has said he wants cuts on future spending before the House will pay its existing bills.

MARTÍNEZ: Let's ask White House correspondent Asma Khalid some questions about this.

So, Asma, what message is the president trying to send to Kevin McCarthy?

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Well, his opening position is that raising the debt ceiling is not a negotiation. He says it's an obligation. You know, the situation here is that a couple of weeks ago, the Treasury Department said that the U.S. had already reached its debt limit. And that means, you know, it could be a major trouble if there's not an agreement to raise the debt ceiling by this summer. This news, of course, has been rattling financial markets and investors who don't want to see economic uncertainty. And so the White House position, at least publicly, is that it absolutely will not negotiate around the debt ceiling. We've heard this from the president directly.

And, A, there has been a lot of lead-up to this meeting between Biden and McCarthy - you know, I would say, some public jockeying we've seen. Yesterday, in fact, the White House circulated a memo saying the president intends to push McCarthy to commit to never defaulting on the United States financial obligations.

MARTÍNEZ: And there's been a lot of public jockeying, actually. So what do Republicans want?

KHALID: Essentially, they want concessions in terms of future spending, or promises around future spending. They see this as an opportunity for leverage because Republicans now control the House. Kevin McCarthy, the speaker of the House, the newly elected Republican speaker, told CBS' "Face The Nation" on Sunday that he does not want to see the U.S. default, but he blames President Biden for being unwilling to negotiate.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FACE THE NATION")

KEVIN MCCARTHY: I know the president said he didn't want to have any discussions, but I think it's very important that our whole government's designed to find compromise. I want to find a reasonable and a responsible way that we can lift the debt ceiling but take control of this runaway spending.

KHALID: There was even some more public jockeying yesterday. McCarthy took to Twitter to respond directly and publicly to Biden ahead of this meeting. He said he's not interested in political games, and he is coming to the White House to negotiate for the American people.

MARTÍNEZ: All right - not a lot of details there. I mean, has he proposed any specific cuts?

KHALID: I will say it is unclear what House Republicans mean when they say that they want to see spending cuts. We've heard some vocal Republicans call for cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Over the weekend, McCarthy insisted multiple times that those entitlement benefits will not be on the chopping block. You know, broadly, he has criticized Democrats for big spending, and he wants to assess where the government can become more efficient.

Leading up to this meeting, Biden said to McCarthy, show me your budget, and I'll show you mine. The White House says it's going to release a budget on March 9 and that it's, you know, essential McCarthy released a budget also to spell out how he intends to make those cuts. But again, I want to be really abundantly clear. The president has said he does not think any spending cuts in the budget ought to be linked to conversations about the debt limit.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Asma Khalid. Thanks a lot.

KHALID: Happy to do it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.
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.