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Morning news brief

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The new House majority is trying an old tactic that Republicans used against Democratic presidents. Congress is threatening not to pay the bills that Congress ran up.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Lawmakers already voted for changes they liked, such as the tax cuts and pandemic spending of the Trump years or the pandemic spending and anti-poverty measures under President Biden. But an old law calls for them to vote separately on the borrowing that finances all that. House Republicans say they won't do it unless Democrats agree to their budget demands. The U.S. hits the debt ceiling, as it's called, as soon as today, although Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says the government can use extraordinary measures to cover the nation's debts for now.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Susan Davis is covering this. Sue, Kevin McCarthy made a lot of promises on spending to get Republicans to elect him House speaker. What were those promises?

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: In short, cut spending and work towards balancing the budget. Here's one of those conservatives who helped extract those promises. This is Texas Republican Chip Roy.

CHIP ROY: Look, you only have so many leverage and negotiating points. The debt ceiling is one of those. Nobody in America wants us to blindly just raise the debt ceiling again if we don't get structural reforms around here. Nobody wants that.

DAVIS: You know, the problem for McCarthy is the White House and Democrats want exactly that. The White House says the president will not negotiate on the debt limit because the risks of a default are too big to entertain. McCarthy is in a pretty difficult position right now. On the one hand, he is very publicly pledging that his party will not mess with the U.S. economy, but also that the Republican Party will reduce spending. And there's really no clear path for both of those outcomes to be true right now.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, and just to be clear, the money is for Congress that they have already spent, right? They're trying to cover what they've already spent.

DAVIS: Exactly. It's not about future spending. It's about money Congress already approved. And historically, raising the debt limit has been fairly routine, but it's become more politicized, particularly by Republicans. You know, they used it as leverage against Democratic presidents, first under Barack Obama and now Joe Biden - worth noting they have been much more willing to raise it under Republican presidents. They did so under former President Trump three times.

MARTÍNEZ: So what exactly, then, are Republicans looking to cut?

DAVIS: Basically everything but the Pentagon. There's a push to cut non-defense-related domestic spending that comes through as part of the annual budget process. But that money in the bigger picture is just a very tiny fraction of what drives the debt. The biggest driver is the mandatory spending for entitlement programs - Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. It's also - understatement here - the most politically risky, and the party doesn't have a great track record when it comes to trying to change the social safety net. Also, to be clear, there isn't even really Republican unity around this. It's mainly driven by a group of fiscal conservatives and some on the hard right. But there's no broad consensus about what Republicans want, so it's not just Democratic opposition, and Senate Republicans have not been sharing this enthusiasm.

MARTÍNEZ: OK, so Congress apparently has several months to figure this out. Susan, are lawmakers confident that they can get this thing passed?

DAVIS: You know, if the past is any indication, they're likely to run up right into the early summer deadline. But even political brinksmanship can have consequences. Back in 2011, Congress did ultimately raise the debt limit, but the fight around it had an impact on the stock market. It also resulted in the first ever credit rating downgrade for the United States government, so it's not just about raising it. It's about how quickly and how calmly to the markets lawmakers can do it, or it could have - still have an economic impact.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR political correspondent Susan Davis. Susan, thanks.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTÍNEZ: Microsoft is laying off 10,000 employees.

INSKEEP: Which makes Microsoft the latest tech company to announce big cuts to the workforce as the industry faces a sharp downturn.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's tech reporter Bobby Allyn joins us now to discuss what's driving the slowdown. Bobby, it seems like every other day brings some other announcement about a tech company laying off staff. I mean, what's going on here?

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Yeah, it really does. So if you listen to tech executives explaining the layoffs, they tend to put it this way. The pandemic set off a frenzy of new hiring. Big tech companies brought on thousands of new employees to help, you know, all of us move more of our lives online. But now that the pandemic sugar high is fading, they're looking at their headcounts and realizing they just have too many people. And in Microsoft's case, it's 10,000 too many people. But Amazon has laid off 18,000. Facebook parent company Meta has cut 11,000 positions. Twitter has reduced its staff by two-thirds. This is happening, A, across the whole industry right now.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, now, that's the explanation from executives. Any other competing theories explaining why Silicon Valley is shedding so many jobs?

ALLYN: There are other theories out there. Let's take Microsoft as an example. It's not a company that's exactly hurting for money right now. In its last quarter, it reported nearly $18 billion in profits. Last year, Microsoft moved to buy video-game-maker Activision Blizzard for $69 billion in cash. So skeptics ask, does it really need to be slashing jobs right now?

MARTÍNEZ: So are you saying, Bobby, that some tech executives might be actually using the current moments as an excuse to lay people off when they might not really be needing to?

ALLYN: Yeah, that is one theory. I mean, now, inflation is high, and corporate spending has slowed, but big tech should have the wherewithal to push through it, the theory goes. Now, Microsoft's cuts represent about 5% of its workforce, but it's still a lot of people to lose their jobs. There's a tech jobs data tracker called layoffs.fyi, and it found that at least 150,000 tech jobs were cut last year. This really is a stunning reversal because, A, for years, for really more than a decade, the tech industry has just been on a tear, totally unchecked growth spurt. And now it's just really slowing down.

MARTÍNEZ: So what's the job market then look like for the tech workers after they've been let go?

ALLYN: Yeah, so it's better than many. I mean, one survey found that 8 out of 10 techies who are laid off find a new tech job within three months of starting their search. So that does say that techies can quickly land on their feet, but surely not all of them, right? I mean, another thing to consider is that tech relies heavily on immigrant workers. And, you know, when you're on a visa that's tied to your job and you're laid off, the clock starts ticking for you to quickly find another employer sponsor. So many families are just sort of struggling right now, thinking, am I going to be laid off? And if so, is that going to cause a serious crisis?

MARTÍNEZ: Is there anything that can be gleaned off of the tech industry's slowdown right now that maybe the broader economy might be facing soon?

ALLYN: Yeah. So there are some experts who say that the tech industry's pullback is specific to Silicon Valley, but the tech world is seen as a economic bellwether. It's a huge employer, multitrillion-dollar industry. The companies are on the cutting edge, and they intersect with just about every industry in some fashion. So honestly, A, it's hard to see a tech downturn not having some fallout for other parts of the economy, but it's just too early to say definitively if that's the case.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. NPR's Bobby Allyn, thanks a lot for your reporting.

ALLYN: Thank you, A.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTÍNEZ: The U.S. government generates millions of classified documents each year.

INSKEEP: And we've been learning just how difficult it can be to keep track of all that sensitive material, even at the White House.

MARTÍNEZ: To find out how the wider government handles these records, we've called on NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre. Greg, President Biden and former President Trump are both under investigation for the way they've handled classified material. Are the rules at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue different than other parts of the government?

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Well, generally they're the same, but they do differ in one significant way. When presidents leave office, they have to turn over all government records, including the classified material, to the National Archives. And this isn't the case for other government agencies. They keep those records at their offices so they can continue to use them. So a classified document at the CIA can be kept in the same filing cabinet for years. But at the White House, it has to be packed up and moved when an administration changes. And so this could make it vulnerable to some sort of mishandling.

MARTÍNEZ: And the cases involving the current former president are focused on paper documents. Greg, it's the 21st century. I mean, why aren't classified documents digital?

MYRE: Well, most are now electronic, but some are still printed. Let's just consider one important document, the president's daily brief. It's been printed and put between a leather-bound covers for decades, and it still is. Now, President Obama was the first and only president to take it on an iPad, but other presidents still prefer to get a physical version accompanied by an actual briefer. And as a rule, paper documents are easier to mishandle, even by national security professionals. I spoke about this with retired CIA officer Larry Pfeiffer. He also served at the White House, where he ran the Situation Room when Barack Obama was president and Joe Biden was vice president.

LARRY PFEIFFER: There's this level of human frailty here that just plays into this situation. And I've known several people who have retired, and after they retire, they're going through their box, and it's like, whoa, how did that get in here? And they - you know, they call back to the building. Some security officer comes out, picks it up, and everybody's fine with it.

MARTÍNEZ: So it sounds like there's more classified material out there, no one - and no one knows about it.

MYRE: Yeah, that's undoubtedly true. And here's the irony. If you're a junior staffer, the likelihood of mishandling classified records is pretty low. To see that kind of information, you'd go into a secure room at your agency. You'd walk in empty-handed, you'd get briefed and read some classified documents. Then you walk out empty-handed. You really can't accidentally walk off with documents. But it's easier to make that mistake at the top levels of government. Here's Glenn Gerstell, former legal counsel at the National Security Agency.

GLENN GERSTELL: An official, usually a more senior official who has both unclassified and classified documents in their workspace on their desk. I know of one case where someone had a three-ring binder, and the first 30 or 40 pages were all unclassified, and they didn't realize that in the back was an appendix that had a classified document.

MARTÍNEZ: Always got to go all the way to the back. We've been talking about accidents, Greg. What about cases where government officials are intentionally trying to pass on sensitive stuff?

MYRE: Well, for starters, it would be a crime if someone in the government hands over classified material to, say, a foreign government. And if a person doesn't want to get caught, they'd probably share that material verbally, not passing on a physical document or an electronic record. That creates a trail. We've seen increased prosecutions in recent years. The key reason is technology, which means better forensics.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Greg Myre. Greg, thanks.

MYRE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.