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From Infrastructure To The Debt Limit, Negotiations In Congress Are On

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The White House says it's a precarious day in Congress for President Biden's agenda. Lawmakers and the White House are working to reach huge deals. Some could impact the nation's economic standing.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Others would rebuild U.S. infrastructure that has been deteriorating for years, as we've heard from across the country in recent weeks. In Detroit, people are awaiting flood relief.

CAROL MILLER: Why is it that disadvantaged people in the city have to go into their basements several times a year to pump out, or pail out, sewage that has gathered in the basement from a storm?

FADEL: Communities are struggling to get adequate internet access, like at the Duck Valley Reservation in Nevada.

LYNN MANNING JOHN: We want fiber. We want 5G. We want the latest technologies. But we are so isolated. It's challenging to get those companies to come.

SHAPIRO: People in Flint, Mich., say money to replace lead pipes across the country is long overdue.

JENEYAH MCDONALD: This country is old. And it should not take for a whole city to get hurt for someone to say, hey, maybe we should start doing something about this.

SHAPIRO: And engineering experts say even the money proposed to stop frequent and prolonged power outages is still not enough.

DANIEL COHAN: I think it probably deserves about a C or C-minus, like, the grid itself. It's better than nothing, but with such momentous challenges that we face, this isn't really up to the magnitude of that challenge.

FADEL: Even if the infrastructure bill becomes law, this money could be months away from reaching the communities that need it.

SHAPIRO: Even more pressing are talks on the debt limit and keeping the government funded. Political divisions within both parties are standing in the way of these plans. NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell joins us to break down what's happening. Hey, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi there.

SHAPIRO: Before we get to the debt ceiling, does it seem like infrastructure is going to be handled in time?

SNELL: You know, we are getting a lot of mixed messages from leaders on Capitol Hill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and majority leader Steny Hoyer say there will be a vote in the House tomorrow on a bipartisan bill. But Pelosi has also said that she doesn't want to have a vote on a bill that will fail, and so far, it does not seem like there are sufficient votes for it to get passed. You know, support for the infrastructure bill hinges on President Biden reaching a deal with moderate Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia in large part. You know, they have to try to satisfy both those moderates and the progressive Democrats who want to see a bigger bill. You know, it's unclear if this is possible. And, you know, it is a very difficult moment where Democrats are facing a situation where so many different pieces of legislation have become politically tangled.

SHAPIRO: Tell us what's actually at stake here, because I think so many people hear Congress is gridlocked, the parties can't agree, and they say, what else is new? So, like, what's actually on the line at this moment?

SNELL: Right. You know, it can feel like the consequences for normal people can get lost in all of this fighting. And I think the most immediate thing that we're watching involves the debt limit and government funding. Now, these are the two issues that the rest of the country would feel pretty immediately if Congress fails to act. On the government funding side, a shutdown could disrupt, you know, government services at a time when people are waiting for things like child tax credit payments, and they're interacting with federal agencies for things like disaster recovery. And people are trying to process passports and other critical documents. A partial shutdown would stop all of that and leave only the, you know, the most essential pieces of the government functioning.

And the debt limit is also very serious. Congress has to address the borrowing cap to avoid default. And we're in a situation where the market is already shaky and has been really rocked by the instability they're seeing in Congress right now, and that's just the near term. If they were to default, people's retirement savings and mortgage rates are at stake, and that could happen even if Congress just flirts with default.

SHAPIRO: And what about the stakes on the infrastructure bill? I mean, presidents have been talking about wanting to pass an infrastructure bill back since I was covering the White House during the Obama administration. It hasn't happened yet. What if it doesn't happen now?

SNELL: Well, to some degree, the idea of getting a vote on infrastructure this week was self-imposed by Democrats. They set this as part of an agreement between moderates and progressives in an effort to get a deal on a bigger spending bill. If they don't get it done this week, they could potentially, you know, get it done later on. You know, there's time to get an agreement on most of those elements if people are willing to step back from kind of the brink of all of this. You know, programs included are important priorities for Democrats but not necessarily critical in terms of getting it done this week. That said, the economy has been hobbled for 18 months by the pandemic, and the idea of getting more money out there is something that Democrats say is absolutely, absolutely critical.

SHAPIRO: So you've described the obstacles. You've described the stakes. What are the chances that this actually happens?

SNELL: Well, it does seem like things are on track to prevent a government shutdown, so that part of it does seem to be moving towards some resolution. That has to get done by the end of the day tomorrow. (Unintelligible) working out a deal on timing, but each side seems fairly confident that it'll come together. But the debt limit is a really different question. Senate Democrats are unwilling to add the debt limit suspension to that big, broader spending package. And it's creating this big standoff with Republicans. So it is, as, you know, as seriously as serious a standoff as I've seen in my time covering Congress.

SHAPIRO: NPR Congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell. Thank you for bringing us up to date on the latest.

SNELL: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.