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House Republican lawmakers overcome internal divisions to pass debt ceiling bill


Republicans finally made an opening bid in the fight over paying federal bills.


Leaders of the House have said they will not pay those bills unless they get something in return. And up to last night, they had not agreed on what they wanted. Now a bare majority does. Speaker Kevin McCarthy got through a bill that extends federal borrowing for less than a year but also demands that President Biden cancel much of his agenda.


KEVIN MCCARTHY: You've underestimated us. But you know the one place that they haven't underestimated? The American public. Why? 'Cause those are the people we were working for day in and day out. And just as it took me 15 rounds to win speaker, the one thing I have promised the American public - I will never give up on you.

INSKEEP: OK, so the House majority now agrees on a position which the Democratic-led Senate is not expected to pass at all. Democrats have said the United States should simply meet its obligations and avoid default.

MARTIN: NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales is here with us now to give us the details. Good morning, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: So let's start with the Republican bill. What's in it?

GRISALES: Well, the centerpiece of it is that it increases the debt limit by 1.5 trillion or it raises it until March of next year, whichever of these happens first. And that's linked to a series of Republican initiatives from a plan to cap spending for several years to efforts to repeal parts of President Biden's so-called Inflation Reduction Act. It also looks to block the Biden administration's efforts to forgive certain student loans, install requirements for certain adults who seek federal assistance, such as food stamps, and cancels unspent pandemic relief funds.

MARTIN: And the clip that we just heard kind of alludes to this. It seemed that Speaker McCarthy did not have the votes at some point to pass this plan. Do we know what changed?

GRISALES: Yes, a few things. Republicans saw a breakthrough in closed-door negotiations. One by one, we saw holdouts leave his office and say they were going to support the bill. And this includes one significant change when McCarthy agreed to back off plans to repeal a provision in the original Republican bill to allow tax credits for ethanol production. This is a key concern for Republican members in the Midwest. And in the end, with this razor-thin margin, McCarthy could only lose four members of his conference and indeed only four voted no. Afterwards, he boasted repeatedly to reporters last night that his conference has passed the only bill in Washington that addresses the debt limit and encourages spending cuts.

MARTIN: So this would seem to ramp up pressure for President Biden to meet with Speaker McCarthy. Now, what is the president saying?

GRISALES: Right. The last time they had an extended conversation about this was in February. Biden has repeatedly said he will not negotiate on the debt limit. And yesterday, following a bilateral meeting and press conference with South Korea's president, Biden addressed this question again on whether he'd entertain another McCarthy meeting.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I'm happy to meet with McCarthy, but not on whether or not the debt limit gets extended. That's not negotiable.

GRISALES: So he has said that he will meet to talk about spending but is keeping the debt limit conversation separate. And he went on to argue that Republican presidents would not let this debt limit standoff get this far.

MARTIN: So what's next?

GRISALES: So although this legislation heads to the Senate, it is considered DOA there. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Democrats have said this is a nonstarter and that Congress should pass a, quote, "clean bill" to lift the debt ceiling and then negotiate on spending. But this is basically the next stage in a very dangerous stalemate. The stakes continue to rise for financial default for this country as we get closer to the date where the U.S. runs out of money to pay its bills without a bipartisan deal in hand.

MARTIN: NPR's Claudia Grisales. Claudia, thank you.

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

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.

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