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Top congressional leaders will meet with Biden to talk about the debt limit


President Biden and congressional leaders are due to meet this afternoon to try and break an impasse and head off a possible default on the national debt. Biden wants the cap on borrowing raised without any conditions. Republicans want Democrats to commit to future spending cuts in programs ranging from school grants to upgrades at the IRS. White House Communications Director Ben LaBolt is on the line. Ben, a couple of weeks ago, I spoke to South Dakota Congressman Dusty Johnson, who said that President Biden is going to do what he's always done in the past, which is get in the room and negotiate. But he has said that he will not negotiate on this. So what will the discussion in the room be about today?

BEN LABOLT: Well, the president has outlined a budget that has $3 trillion worth of deficit reduction in it by eliminating subsidies to oil and gas companies and big pharma. And so he's laid out a budget approach that has both spending cuts and revenue in it that would get us to some deficit reduction. But this shouldn't happen with default hanging over the American people. You know, if the government defaults, that could cost as many as 8 million jobs and reverse much of the economic gains we've seen during this presidency, when 12 million jobs were created and 800,000 manufacturing jobs were created. And so the president believes the appropriate process for this is the one that already exists, which is the budget and appropriations process. So he will not negotiate over default. The government has to meet its obligations for bills that it's already accrued over the course of years. But he's happy to negotiate a path to fiscal responsibility through the budget and appropriations process.

MARTÍNEZ: So what are they talking about today then, Ben? I mean, who's going to break the ice first? Who's going to speak first? What are they going to say?

LABOLT: Well, look; I think the president is going to urge congressional leaders to come together to avoid default. They voted to pass a clean debt ceiling bill 78 times since 1960, including three times under President Trump's administration. So this is a congressional responsibility. It's something that they've done many times. The president introduced his vision for a budget on March 9 that detailed both the investments he would make to continue our historic job growth, as well as a path to deficit reduction. And by the way, I'd note that there's already been $1.7 trillion of deficit reduction under this president. I think the opening for negotiation is through the budget and appropriations process. And he'll urge Congress to come together to get to work on that now that he's introduced his budget. And the Republicans have put forward, at the end of April, their budget vision.

MARTÍNEZ: But I guess what I'm wondering, Ben, is if Kevin McCarthy says, no, we're not going to even do any of that until you agree to things now, it doesn't sound like this is going to be a very long meeting.

LABOLT: Well, I would say this. I mean, the Republicans are playing with fire, even getting close to default in 2011. You know, we didn't go past the date. The Treasury couldn't pay its bills. But the credit rating of the United States got downgraded for the first time. And that had significant economic consequences. This is really a manufactured crisis by Republicans. And so the president today is going to urge action. He'll also talk about areas that they can work together. You know, the bill that they passed is really an extreme MAGA wish list of all their priorities that would repeal big parts of the president's agenda. So that's a nonstarter. But they're both committed to deficit reductions. The president has an approach with spending cuts and revenue that would get us there. So there is an opening in the budget process to negotiate and find a path forward on spending and revenue.

MARTÍNEZ: Is the president open to extending the debt ceiling on a short-term basis?

LABOLT: Well, look; that's not our plan. We believe that default should be taken off the table. And we don't want to go a week, two weeks, a month and have this come back around and be in the same situation with the same threat of recession and job loss hanging over the American people. And so certainly he will urge dealing with this in a real way.

MARTÍNEZ: You said that Republicans are playing with fire on this, Ben. Does the Biden administration feel that they're in the stronger position here with this meeting happening today?

LABOLT: Well, look; the president didn't manufacture this crisis. This was a crisis manufactured by Speaker McCarthy and House Republicans. You know, they voted to raise the debt ceiling three times under the Trump administration. They passed a $3 trillion tax cut for the wealthiest and corporations. And the bill from that is now coming due. These are bills that the government has already accrued. And so they need to act to make sure that default is off the table. But again, the president recognizes that there is a Republican House. And he's willing to negotiate on the budget through the traditional process.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. Ben LaBolt is the White House communications director. Ben, thanks.

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