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Lingering concerns could upend the debt ceiling deal

ERIC DEGGANS, HOST:

President Joe Biden has reached a deal with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on raising the debt ceiling. Now it's up to members of the Senate and House to approve the deal and avert a fast-approaching economic crisis. But there are some lingering concerns that could still upend the deal. White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez is with us to break down the latest. So, Franco, hi.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Hey, Eric.

DEGGANS: So what more can you tell us about the deal and the current state of play?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, Biden and McCarthy spoke again today - are going to speak again today to make sure, as Biden puts it, that all the T's are crossed and the I's are dotted on the legislative text that will go out to members. The agreement raises the debt ceiling for two years, until after the presidential election, and it also maintains nondefense spending for two years. And it protects Medicaid. These are things that Democrats wanted. Republicans also scored a victory, though, in that it includes more work requirements for some social benefit programs, like for people using food stamps. But Biden emphasized that it is a compromise and that neither Democrats nor Republicans get everything they want. And that's really for sure because we've already heard some rumblings about some of those changes from both sides of the aisle.

DEGGANS: That's right. Well, let's talk about those concerns. I mean, what exactly are they, and are they big enough to upend the agreement?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, some Democrats are concerned about those work requirements for social benefit programs. And some of the hard-line Republicans are concerned that the cuts to federal spending are not deep enough. Actually, a prominent member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, Chip Roy, even took to Twitter and warned that he and others were going to try to stop the bill from passing. But Kevin McCarthy is calling the deal transformational, and he expressed confidence that Republicans would ultimately support the agreement once they read it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEVIN MCCARTHY: We know at any time, when you sit and negotiate within two parties, that you got to work with both sides of the aisle. So it's not 100% what everybody wants, but when you look, the country is going to be stronger.

DEGGANS: Well, Franco, the president said it himself. Not everyone's getting what they want here. So what else can you tell us about Democrats' concerns?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, I mean, it's definitely not just the Republicans. Representative Pramila Jayapal is chair of the House Progressive Caucus. She said the White House should be worried about support from progressives, talking especially about the work requirements. She said on CNN that it was bad policy and that it won't save money.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRAMILA JAYAPAL: It is about people who are hungry, people who just need a little bit of temporary assistance. And we are one of the only countries in the world, if not the only country in the world, that is an industrialized country that puts any requirements on people who just want food.

ORDOÑEZ: So that's strong language from a person from the president's own party. But when the president arrived at the White House this afternoon, he said he was confident that it would pass.

DEGGANS: Well, I guess it's not surprising that there's some different messages coming out of the Capitol versus the White House, which originally said it wouldn't negotiate over the debt limit at all. So if this deal does fall apart, who's got the most to lose?

ORDOÑEZ: Really, both sides have a lot to lose. You know, the stakes are especially high for McCarthy, whose future as speaker may depend on whether he can address some of those concerns from the right wing of his party. And as for Biden, he's largely been able to keep his caucus together, despite Jayapal's concerns. That said, even if Democrats remain united and Republicans do not, Biden still has a lot to lose here. He's the president, and he's running for reelection in 2024. If this blows up and triggers a recession, for example, a bad economy could really hurt his chances for reelection. And the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll actually found that independents would blame Biden by a wide margin if the nation defaults on its debt.

DEGGANS: Well, that's NPR's Franco Ordoñez. Thanks, Franco.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you, Eric. 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.

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