Oct 8, 2021 - Podcasts

Averting default for now

After days of will-they, won’t-they on the Hill, Senate Democrats and Republicans came to an agreement yesterday to extend the debt ceiling through early December. This came less than two weeks ahead of a deadline that would have seen the U.S. default on its debt for the first time.

  • Plus, the U.S. races to catch up on at-home COVID testing.
  • And, COVID deaths in America are on the decline.

Guests: Axios' Margaret Talev, Marisa Fernandez and Sam Baker.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, Lydia McMullen-Laird, David Toledo, Michael Hanf, and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Friday, October 8th. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what you need to know today: the US races to catch up on at-home covid testing. Plus - Covid deaths in America are on the decline.

But first, averting default - for now - is today’s One Big Thing.

After days of will they won't they on Capitol hill, Senate Democrats and Republicans came to an agreement yesterday to extend the debt ceiling through early December. This came less than two weeks ahead of a deadline that would have seen the US default on its debt for the first time. As always on Fridays, Axios’ White House and politics managing editor, Margaret Talev has what we need to know about this week in politics. Good morning Margaret.

MARGARET: Good morning Niala.

NIALA: How did this debt ceiling deal finally get done? And why did it seem so hard to get here.

MARGARET: There are two factors that explain why Republicans led by Mitch McConnell were finally willing to come to the table. One is that the closer you get to this deadline, right around October the 18th, the greater the chance that there could be economic repercussions, that the markets would react and that there could be an actual crisis and an actual financial crisis and that Republicans could get blamed.

So there's some pressure. And the second is that, Democrats and President Biden started talking more and more seriously about perhaps trying to now finally change the filibuster rules, at least as it pertains to the debt ceiling and Mitch McConnell's against raising the debt ceiling, but he's more against watering down the filibuster. And so these two pressure points kind of combined, and low and behold here's this great deal, but is it really a great deal? It doesn't take the debt ceiling problem off the table. It just takes it off the table for just shy of two months. And that's where we are now. We're looking at now a December where your holiday season will for sure be ruined by a new fight over whether there's going to be a government shutdown and whether the debt ceiling is going to get raised .

NIALA: In other news, one story I think that many people may have missed this week is the ratcheting up of tension between China and Taiwan. And that's coupled with the Biden administration’s continued attempt to make diplomatic inroads in China. Can you tell us what's happening there?

MARGARET: There is absolutely a ratcheting up of tensions. We've seen these sort of incursions around airspace around Taiwan when it comes to China. China testing its power and more importantly testing what is the Biden administration’s reaction going to be. But let's take a look at the larger backdrop for this. And we did hear, this week President Biden saying that he'd spoken with president Xi that they have agreed to follow the Taiwan agreements and that they're going to be talking, they're going to be having a virtual summit at some point before the end of the year. But Xi hasn't actually left China in like 620-some days. Officials in China are incredibly worried about what would happen if he actually were to leave the country and make himself vulnerable to exposure if he were to get the virus. And so, this is all coming to a head just before other major world leaders are gathering in Glasgow and in Rome for the UN Climate Summit, for the G-20 meeting. In normal times, leaders would get together in a room and see whether they can work some of these things out. He will not leave the country. All of these engagements are either with deputies or virtually online, and that may make it even more difficult to reach agreement on some of these big things.

NIALA: Margaret Talev is Axios’ White House and Politics managing editor. Thanks Margaret. Have a good weekend.

MARGARET: Thanks Niala, you too.

NIALA: Back in a moment with why the US lags behind other countries when it comes to covid testing.

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NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. This week, the Biden administration announced it’s spending $1 billion on expanding access to rapid at-home COVID tests. These kinds of tests could be a key part of our public health response as we get back to normalcy. But why has it taken so long to get these tests on the market?

Axios health reporter Marisa Fernandez is here now to help us answer that question. Hey Marisa.


NIALA: What is the Biden administration hoping to do with this $1 billion?

MARISA: What they're trying to do is essentially, you know, quadruple the supply of test availability for Americans. That sounds like a lot, but if you really do the math, the amount of tests that they want sounds like it's only about one test to every American every two months. The Biden administration is trying to address these concerns on how to bring down the costs of these tests through market competition.

There are groups of people in the medical and research community who are pushing the reality that we need to start figuring out how to live with the COVID pandemic, instead of trying to eradicate it. And testing is one of those tools and it's a lot of ways that countries have actually been able to master and we haven't been on that train.

NIALA: Why are tests such an important part of a pandemic public health?

MARISA: So a lot of countries who have been able to have adequate testing, we've been able to see that they have moved through the regulatory and supply process along to make them available for the public in an affordable way. Just the knowledge in terms of asymptomatic spread and making sure that people are taking their time to, you know, pick and choose their groups based off of who's been vaccinated, who hasn't been vaccinated, who's had their booster, who hasn't had their booster - testing can make clear options for people.

NIALA: Marisa, is there a simple explanation for why other countries seem to have this down and the U.S. is very far behind?

MARISA: So the supply is one thing, like we just don't have enough supply and the Biden administration has been trying to address concerns on how to bring down costs for these tests. Other countries in Europe, they just have bigger supply and just lower costs where either people have affordable tests ready at hand, or they're just offered for free.

NIALA: Axios health reporter, Marisa Fernandez. Thank you, Marisa.

MARISA: Thank you.

NIALA: Last week Axios senior editor, Sam Baker told us that COVID cases in the U.S. were falling and that experts hoped we'd soon see the rate of COVID deaths also decline. And now it's finally happening across the country. The virus is killing around 1,800 Americans per day. That's less than half the daily deaths during the height of the pandemic last winter. Sam Baker's back for this update. Hey Sam.

SAM BAKER: Good morning, Niala.

NIALA: So deaths obviously are still way too high, but at least moving in the right direction?

SAM: Yeah, that's exactly right. I mean, they're always the last, sort of piece of the puzzle to move. So they're finally going down which we expected, but actually seeing it is sort of one more fingers crossed, maybe hopefully this Delta wave is really about to recede.

NIALA: How long have they been going down for?

SAM: So, we track these things two weeks at a time, so there's a little bit of overlap there and this is the first two-week increment where we've seen deaths start to go down.

NIALA: To keep this in perspective though, more people in this country have died so far in 2021 than all of 2020 with that in mind. What are you watching for this winter?

SAM: Unlike last winter, things are open now, you know, last Thanksgiving and over the Christmas holidays, when we saw that huge spike, that was sort of the first time that a lot of people had really gone inside. And that's the case for a lot fewer people this year. So we will probably see things tick up, cases and then eventually deaths. But I think the hope among experts is that it won't be necessarily a huge increase.

NIALA: Axios’ senior editor, Sam Baker. Thanks, Sam.

SAM: Thanks, Niala.

NIALA: Before we go - earlier this week we told you about the winners of the Nobel Prize in medicine. So I thought we’d end today with the winner of the Nobel for Literature - Abdulrazak Gurnah . The Tanzanian born author is the first black writer to win this Nobel since Toni Morrison - and the first African winner in more than a decade. His ten novels have explored themes of exile, identity and belonging.

Axios Today is brought to you by Axios and Pushkin Industries.

We’re produced by Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani and Lydia McMullen-Laird. Our sound engineers are Alex Sugiura and Michael Hanf. Dan Bobkoff is our Executive Producer. Sara Kehaulani Goo is our Editor In Chief. And special thanks to Axios co-founder Mike Allen.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and have the best weekend.

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