May 22, 2023 - Podcasts

Biden and McCarthy’s debt ceiling battle

The next debt ceiling meeting between President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is set for Monday afternoon. But there’s another possible constitutional option that some Democrats are pushing for: using the 14th Amendment.

  • Plus, passport delays may derail summer travel.
  • And, a $29 hot dog in Manhattan is the new symbol for food inflation.

Guests: Axios' Hans Nichols, Kelly Tyko and Jennifer Kingson.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Fonda Mwangi 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: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today! It’s Monday, May 22nd. I’m Niala Boodhoo. Here’s what you need to know today: passport delays may derail summer travel. Plus, a $29 hot dog is the new symbol for food inflation. But first, Biden and McCarthy’s debt ceiling battle. That’s today’s One Big Thing.

Biden and McCarthy’s debt ceiling battle

NIALA: The next debt ceiling meeting between President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is set for this afternoon. But, there's another possible option some Democrats are pushing for invoking the Constitution to work around McCarthy and the other Republicans.

PRESIDENT BIDEN: I'm looking at the 14th Amendment as whether or not we have the authority. I think we have the authority. The question is, could it be done and invoked in time.

NIALA: Axios’ Hans Nichols is here with the big picture. Hi Hans.

HANS NICHOLS: Good morning.

NIALA: President Biden talked about the 14th Amendment before he left Japan yesterday. He was at a G7 meeting. I thought the 14th Amendment had to do with slavery. What does it have to do with the debt ceiling?

HANS: Paying debts, right? Now it’s, you can get into legal arguments on whether or not it was ever envisioned to be used for paying off debts to foreign countries to paying social security payments. The issue with the 14th Amendment isn't so much that it's unworkable. We don't know if it's workable or not because the courts haven't decided in this instance. The issue is, is that markets will react negatively and they may perceive it as a default, even if you use the 14th Amendment. So the very thing the White House is trying to avoid by having some sort of deal to raise the debt ceiling, you don't avoid that by using the 14th amendment. You actually inject more uncertainty and that's why this whole chatter is so unpopular at the Treasury Department and Janet Yellen basically says as much.

NIALA: So let's talk about why there isn't a deal. First, there's this notion of work requirements around food stamp benefits that some Republicans are pushing for in order to agree to raise the debt ceiling?

HANS: Oh, sure. We can get into the specifics of why there isn't a deal. To me, the bigger issue on why there isn't a deal is ‘cause neither side really accepts or believes that the other side is serious. That's one thing that will be tested today is, are either of the negotiators, and by that I mean President Biden and and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, are they willing to cut a deal? And uncertainty is kind of looming over this entire conversation because the White House certainly doesn't know how far McCarthy's willing to go. And McCarthy doesn't necessarily know how far the president's willing to go. But on the meta question - will both sides buck a significant part of their own party to cut a deal? And we don't know the answer to that question.

NIALA: So if that's the case, what has to be reached in terms of substance and content for an agreement to happen?

HANS: So to listen to Republicans on Sunday, really the big thing is spending and that once you get spending levels and they're saying it has to be lower in 2024 than it was in 2023, everything else will fall into line. There are some real policy differences, the Republicans want to attach some work requirements onto some social security programs, some entitlement programs.

There's a big debate about permitting reform and, you know, if you find a top line spending level, the permitting reform is probably easier to solve, in part because the White House wants it. Now, Republicans wanna make it easier because they want to build more oil and gas, have more projects invested like that. So there's a broad agreement that something needs to be done on permitting reform. That said, the politics get really sticky and really dicey.

NIALA: Hans, so this is my last and maybe most important question, is June 1st really the deadline here?

HANS: Yes. Stock up on cat food. No, it's like no one knows, right? It's a good assumption that it is going to be in early June. So it's looking and everyone's behaving, especially Republicans. Remember at first, they were skeptical about June 1, but McCarthy in particular has seized upon that June 1 deadline and everyone's behaving that it's real.

NIALA: Hans Nichols covers the Biden administration for Axios. Thanks, Hans.

HANS: Thanks for having me.

NIALA: In a moment: why you may need to file your passport applications for the fall travel - now.


Passport delays may derail summer travel

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today I'm Niala Boodhoo.

If you haven't submitted your passport application or renewal yet for summer travel, you're probably out of luck. The State Department says it could take around three months to get your passport. Axios’ Senior Reporter Kelly Tyko has been reporting on this.

Hi Kelly.


NIALA: Kelly. Why are we seeing such long delays in turnaround for passports?

KELLY: Well, a big part of it is everyone wants to travel internationally. There's been surging travel demand, so that means more people are applying for passports or applying for renewals. And if you haven't applied for summer, I think you're pretty much outta luck unless you wanna fork over some big dollars. Right now, the processing time for a regular routine application is 10 to 13 weeks, which is up from six to nine weeks. But that's not including the time for shipping and the time for your applications to be received. So the whole process can take many, many months.

I really think that if you're traveling in August, or the summer that you really need to look at the more expensive, pricier options. You could go to a third party vendor and pay like $600 to get it in two weeks or $800 to get it in one week. But if you pay for expedited service with the passport, you're still having a delay. I would check the status online. And I would check that regularly. And you really won't find out very much until they actually process it, until it's actually shipping out. Like you really don't get very many updates on that system. But it's important to check, I find.

NIALA: Kelly, one thing to keep in mind here, you're talking about folks getting their passports in order now in May for travel in the fall or for holiday travel. People also need to keep in mind when their passport expires?

KELLY: Right, because the date on your passport, it might say it's expiring but it really expires before that deadline for most countries. You know they won't let you travel if you have less than six months left. So, that's a very important note that you have to renew early.

NIALA: And Kelly, the entire process is done by mail. Unless you are one of the lucky people to get an appointment, you really can't go to a passport office to get a passport these days?

KELLY: Well there aren't maybe like, I'm not thinking of passport offices. Where I lived, they had a city hall in the mall and I was able to get an appointment that same day. So there are like options like that to look at. And then I didn't have to mail it and they sent it in for me. But look for options like that, passport fairs or some post offices have passport services, look for that versus just mailing it in if possible.

NIALA: If people have emergency reasons for traveling, that is a different situation, right?

KELLY: Right. And that's when you go to a passport office, you have to call to make an appointment. There are reasons like, someone's died, someone's in hospice, there are ways to get that passport.

NIALA: Kelly, is there any relief in sight for how problematic all of these delays have been?

KELLY: Well, the State Department says that they've increased staffing and they're hoping to roll out an online renewal program that they did have for a couple months, but it was paused. They say they want to improve it and then bring it back. I'll say my sister was able to use that earlier this year and it still took about two months. But she, you know, was able to track the process. So hopefully that online renewal program will come soon, ‘cause I think that would help a lot of people.

NIALA: Axios’ Senior Reporter, Kelly Tyko.Thanks, Kelly.

KELLY: Thanks.

$29 hot dog is the new symbol for food inflation

NIALA: Food prices going up and up is being called menu-flation. And it's happening all over the country - but especially in New York City. Axios' Jennifer Kingson has one of the most eyebrow-raising signs of this.

JENNIFER KINGSON: They're calling it menu-flation. The price of meals and restaurants in New York City and cities elsewhere across the country keeps going up and up. And the latest symbol of this is a $29 hotdog at a hot new restaurant called Mischa in Midtown Manhattan, that the New York Post has skewered as a symbol of crazy food inflation. It's not the only place that's raising prices. But the humble hotdog, to think of paying $29 for it, is a symbol of everything that's going on.

We're paying more for food in supermarkets across the country, and restaurants are hiking their prices, both because of the basic cost of food going up. But also because of the worker shortages that they're suffering and sometimes they're tacking on fees which are sometimes hard to detect or simply jacking up the cost of the basic menu items.

In addition to the hotdog, The New York Post pointed to a $29 ham and cheese takeout sandwich at Eli Zabar's E.A.T on the Upper East Side and a hamburger at the historic Minetta Tavern that will cost you, uh, $50 after tax and a 20% tip. Needless to say, once you get the bill, you don't feel quite as, uh, happy as you did after you consume the food. Unfortunately, it seems like restaurant prices seldom go down, so we're likely to see a lot more of this in the days ahead.

NIALA: That’s Axios’ Jennifer Kingson.

That’s it for us today! I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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