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House of Representatives narrowly approves Republican bill to raise debt limit

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The House of Representatives has narrowly approved a Republican bill to raise the debt limit. However, it ties the ability to raise that debt ceiling to big spending cuts. And this House bill rolls back several of President Biden's key policies.

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KEVIN MCCARTHY: The Democrats need to do their job. We've done our job, the only body in here that's done theirs.

BLOCK: That's House Speaker Kevin McCarthy after the vote urging Democrats to act before the government runs out of money to pay its bills this summer. NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh joins me now to talk about all of this. Deirdre, walk us through what's in this bill.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: So it raises the debt limit by $1.5 trillion or through March of 2024, whichever comes first. It also sets spending levels for federal programs to those that were in place two years ago. It limits the growth of spending going forward to 1% annually. But as you said, it also targets a list of the president's policies. It repeals the president's student loan forgiveness program, which is tied up in the courts. It claws back unspent COVID relief money and rolls back key energy provisions that were in the Inflation Reduction Act. It also puts in place new work requirements for adults without children who receive federal assistance like food stamps or Medicaid.

BLOCK: And in order to get this bill to pass, I understand the Republicans had to make some changes.

WALSH: They did. The speaker was forced to make changes after he insisted he wouldn't. Remember, he only has a four-vote majority. A group of Midwestern Republicans demanded that tax credits for biofuel production be preserved, saying farmers in their districts really rely on them. Other conservatives wanted to speed up when the work requirements would start - next year instead of 2025. So the speaker did make those two changes. I asked Wisconsin Republican Bryan Steil about whether he was worried at all about any political blowback for voting for these new rules for those who get food stamps when they aren't expected to go anywhere in the Senate. He argued that recently, in his state, there was a referendum that supported this policy.

BRYAN STEIL: Eighty percent of people that voted in the state of Wisconsin, a 50-50 state, said, yeah, we should be able to have work requirements for able-bodied, childless adults. I don't think it's a political loser at all.

BLOCK: And Deirdre, as you mentioned, there are components of this that are not expected to be approved by the Senate. In fact, they're considered deal-breakers. What happens next?

WALSH: Well, it heads to the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has really echoed the president's message saying that Congress should just pass a clean bill to lift the debt ceiling, and then, after that, people can sit down and negotiate about federal spending later this fall. But there are some Democrats, like Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, who say Biden should sit down with the speaker. And West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin is another Democrat who backs rolling back some of these energy provisions in the Inflation Reduction bill even though he helped write that bill last year.

BLOCK: So are there any signs that this will increase the pressure on President Biden to negotiate?

WALSH: Well, the fact that Democrats are now saying this could help increase pressure - but also, just - there's really no path ahead in terms of what a compromise could look for, look like. Given how hard it was for the speaker to pass this bill, it just shows how hard it's going to be to come up with a compromise before the deadline. And there's really not a lot of time. The latest analysis from the Treasury Department says they could run out of money to meet their debt obligations sometime in June.

BLOCK: OK. That's NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh. Deirdre, thanks so much.

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

Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.