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Negotiations to raise the debt ceiling drag on as the deadline nears

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

With just a week before a crucial deadline, lawmakers in the White House still haven't reached an agreement to prevent a national default. Most of Congress is already out of town for the Memorial Day recess. Democratic House Minority Whip Katherine Clark is with us to tell us more about this. She's been in touch with the White House and her caucus about their priorities for a deal.

Good morning to you, Congresswoman. Thanks so much for joining us.

KATHERINE CLARK: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: What's your sense of where the negotiations stand now?

CLARK: At this point, we are being held captive by extremists in the GOP. And what do I mean by that? I mean that the fever they have to extract pain from the American people in exchange for their vote to raise the debt ceiling has not broken. And we are there at the negotiating table saying, let's be bipartisan. Let's put the American people first. I can tell you, Michel, we are fighting like hell for them because we are so afraid of what will happen to kids in this country, to veterans, to teachers, to first responders if the extremists in the GOP take us over the default cliff.

MARTIN: Well, they do have the votes, though. So they have the votes to do this. As you know better than anybody, the margins in the House are so narrow that they do have significant power. So how do you plan to overcome that?

CLARK: What we have done as Democrats is say we are united because we know whose side we're fighting on. And it's that of families at home. I don't know how our colleagues are going to look veterans in the eye this weekend as we commemorate Memorial Day. They are holding our veterans hostage. Just look at what they're proposing - $2 billion from veterans' health care. That would translate to 30 million doctor's appointments across the VA system to be canceled. And all of this is to protect their tax scam of 2017. So every single House Democrat has signed a discharge petition saying, let's do the right thing. We can have a discussion about spending and deficit reduction, but it is not and it should never be at the expense of a hostage-taking situation, which is exactly where we are.

MARTIN: So you mentioned that there are clawbacks that you and your caucus specifically oppose. But there are reports that say the Republicans will agree to raise the debt ceiling for two years in exchange for limits on discretionary spending, except for spending on the military and veterans, as well as a $10 billion budget cut at the IRS. Does that comport with what you know, too? Is that accurate? And is that the - sort of the outline of where things are going?

CLARK: Well, I think if they were not still fighting for extreme cuts, we would have a compromise. So I can tell you that they are committed to hurting American families. I mean, their proposal is to cut Medicaid for 2 million people. They are about kids without teachers and parents without jobs. So we are eager for them to come forward, meet the reasonableness that the White House has put forward with some appreciation of where they - where the position they are putting our economy in and the catastrophe that is days away. So we stand 213 strong. We have signed a discharge petition. And we are looking for five patriots across the aisle to come and join us.

MARTIN: Well, you know, all the Democrats aren't satisfied with how President Biden has handled this process. Was it a miscalculation to wait so close to the deadline to actually negotiate in earnest?

CLARK: Let's review the facts of that. The president met with Speaker McCarthy back in February and said, let's put our budgets out and have that discussion about deficit reduction and spending separate from the threat, the extortion, of taking us off the default cliff. And that's exactly what President Biden did. On March 9...

MARTIN: So no complaints.

CLARK: ...He put...

MARTIN: So no complaints about his side of this? No complaints about the president's handling of this at all on your side?

CLARK: Listen. We have a lot of anxiety and frustration on our side because we are dealing with members of the GOP who no longer believe the government should work for people. They don't believe in paving our roads, clean air, and water. We have confidence in the White House that they are fighting for the American people. And we'll get through this.

MARTIN: All right, Congresswoman. We're sorry. We're going to have to leave it there for now. That's Democratic House Whip Representative Katherine Clark. She represents Massachusetts in the House. Thank you so much for joining us.

CLARK: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.