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Morning news brief


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.


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 in 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: There's been a lot of public jockeying, actually. So what do Republicans want?

KHALID: You know, 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's "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.


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 is 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: And I will say 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 on 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 release 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.


MARTÍNEZ: Inflation's coming down, but the watchdogs at the Federal Reserve aren't ready to declare victory just yet.

INSKEEP: Instead, the Fed is expected to order another boost in interest rates today. The central bank is trying to hold down inflation. Today's rate hike is expected to be smaller than the last six.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now. Scott, there's been some encouraging inflation news lately. So what's the Fed looking at as it makes its decision today?

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: That's right. Most of the recent data has been encouraging. After hitting a four-decade high last summer, inflation has come down a good bit. It's still higher than the Fed would like, but it's moving in the right direction. Wage gains have also cooled off despite the tight job market, and that's reassuring to the Fed, which worries that if wages go up too fast, that could put more upward pressure on prices. Economist Aaron Sojourner, who's with the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, says this gradual slowdown in both price increases and wage increases is pretty much exactly what the Fed wants to see.

AARON SOJOURNER: If you were writing the description of what a good resolution to the crises we've been in looks like, this is what it looks like.

HORSLEY: But the Fed is not celebrating just yet. Officials say they are encouraged by what they're seeing, but warn we're not yet out of the inflationary woods.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So what does that mean for interest rates?

HORSLEY: The Fed is almost sure to raise rates by a quarter percentage point today. That would be the smallest increase since last March. After raising rates really aggressively last year, Fed policymakers are now shifting to more of a go-slow approach so they can take the temperature of the economy and see where they want to go from here. Now, financial markets are betting the Fed's going to pivot pretty soon and actually start cutting interest rates. That's one reason the stock markets enjoyed a big rally in recent weeks. But Fed officials have said repeatedly that's not going to happen. Here's Fed Governor Chris Waller speaking a couple of weeks ago.


CHRISTOPHER WALLER: The market has a very optimistic view that inflation is just going to melt away. We have a different view. Inflation is not going to just miraculously melt away. It's going to be a slower, harder slog to get inflation down. And therefore, we have to keep rates higher for longer.

HORSLEY: Remember, just a couple of years ago, it was the Fed that thought inflation would melt away on its own once the pandemic eased and supply chains came untangled. Of course, those price hikes proved to be larger and longer-lasting than the central bank expected. And Waller says they don't want to make that mistake and get head faked again.

MARTÍNEZ: But is there a chance that they're making a different mistake, the opposite mistake, by being too conservative?

HORSLEY: Yes. And that's why the Fed is being cautious now and gradually downsizing these rate hikes. The challenge that Fed policymakers are wrestling with is that monetary policy works kind of like the shower in my creaky old house. You know, you turn the knobs, but the water temperature doesn't change right away. And if you're not careful, you can overcorrect, and then suddenly you get hit with this icy blast. You know, the Fed has been turning the cold water tap on the economy with these rate hikes now for the better part of a year. And we're only now starting to feel the effects. Consumer spending is slowing. Job growth has cooled a little bit. Ideally, inflation will settle gently back down to the Fed's 2% target. Turn the knobs too far, though, and we wind up shivering through a painful recession.

MARTÍNEZ: Cold showers are not bad, Scott. They wake me up. That's NPR's Scott Horsley. Scott, thanks.

HORSLEY: You're welcome.


MARTÍNEZ: Thousands of people are expected to attend the funeral of Tyre Nichols in Memphis this morning. The 29-year-old died after being beaten by police.

INSKEEP: The civil rights leader Al Sharpton is scheduled to deliver the eulogy as he has for other people brutalized by police. Last evening, Sharpton addressed the officers shown on video beating Nichols.


AL SHARPTON: You thought no one would care.


SHARPTON: Well, tomorrow, the vice president of the United States is coming to his funeral. And we are coming because we all Tyre now.


SHARPTON: And we are all going to stand up with this family.


MARTÍNEZ: Lucas Finton has been following the Nichols case. He's a reporter for The Commercial Appeal in Memphis. Lucas, I can pretty much guarantee it's going to be an emotional day. What do you expect to see at the funeral today?

LUCAS FINTON: I expect that we're going to see a range of emotions, from joy to humor to that really profound sadness that we've seen over the last few weeks in Memphis. I think that that'll probably be seen throughout the chapel with family members, high-ranking officials and also friends and activists and community leaders as well.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, we just heard from Al Sharpton a minute ago. You spoke with the Reverend Sharpton about his eulogy. What did he tell you?

FINTON: He really focused on the power of someone who's unfamiliar with an individual eulogizing that person and how that can really give the speaker power to really figure out what that person's death can mean for the future - not just for the family, but also for police reform at a state, local and national level. And he focused on how there really needs to be some strong national reforms in order for police reform to stick.

MARTÍNEZ: You also spoke to Reverend Dr. J. Lawrence Turner, the senior pastor at the church. What did he say about how the community is feeling right now?

FINTON: He said that there's a lot - a very profound sense that everyone is mourning after really getting to know who Tyre Nichols was over the past few weeks and then, beyond that, seeing and reading and finding out what happened to him in those last few minutes after the traffic stop and that the community really feels like they've lost a very valuable and a very bright young man.

MARTÍNEZ: How does the killing of Tyre Nichols fit into the history of the city of Memphis?

FINTON: I think that there's a profound sense of trying to use and embrace that history of the '60s and early '70s civil rights era in Memphis and repurpose it for the future. I mean, this is where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came for the sanitation strike. And it's also where he gave that last speech, and it's also where he took his last breath. Throughout the city, you'll see at these protests, still, the I'm a man sign from the sanitation strike. And these are people who are kind of embracing that really powerful message from the past and repurposing it and placing Tyre Nichols's face from the hospital bed where he's badly bruised, bleeding, intubated, and using that for this present movement and trying to, you know, embrace what came before while also focusing on what comes next.

MARTÍNEZ: Lucas Finton of The Commercial Appeal in Memphis. Lucas, thanks.

FINTON: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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.