Morning news brief
A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:
The Senate narrowly passed the debt ceiling bill that will prevent the country from defaulting on its loans.
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
It now goes to President Biden to sign into law before the government runs out of money to pay its bills on Monday. One of the biggest sticking points among negotiators crafting the deal were new work requirements for social safety net programs.
MARTÍNEZ: NPR politics reporter Ximena Bustillo has been following the process.
Ximena, so is everything all good now with America and the debt?
XIMENA BUSTILLO, BYLINE: Well, it appears like crisis has been averted for now. Here is Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer after the Senate's vote last night.
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CHUCK SCHUMER: I'm happy to stand here passing this critical legislation to support our families, preserve vital programs and, most importantly, avoid catastrophic default.
BUSTILLO: Schumer was threatening to keep members here over the weekend to get this through, so this is an accomplishment. And President Biden said he will sign the bill as soon as possible.
MARTÍNEZ: OK. Ximena, you've been covering food assistance. I want to play a clip from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who tried to explain why he thinks this bill could actually help people on welfare programs.
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KEVIN MCCARTHY: There's going to be people on welfare today that will no longer be on welfare, that they will find a job because of the work requirement.
MARTÍNEZ: So, Ximena, how is this supposed to help?
BUSTILLO: Well, House Republicans were threatening to increase work requirements specifically for those ages 50 to 55 for food stamps and Medicaid. Food stamps currently limit so-called able-bodied adults without dependents ages 18 to 50 to three months of food stamp benefits during any 36-month period when they cannot show that they're employed or working in a training program for at least 20 hours a week. But Democrats and progressives really pushed back against that. In the end, there were no changes to Medicaid, and Republicans did win an age increase, though only to 54. And Democrats got something a little extra. Veterans and homeless folks of any age and youth who aged out of foster care would be exempt from these work requirements. Then the Congressional Budget Office came out with its prediction, which found that there could be a slight increase in participation.
MARTÍNEZ: OK, so how might this proposed spending cut end up increasing participation?
BUSTILLO: Well, the Congressional Budget Office is predicting that there could be about 78,000 people added to food stamps. But keep in mind, that is only a 0.2% increase, so statistically maybe not as significant. And it predicted an increase in spending levels at the same time. Republicans were really quickly to disagree with the CBO's math, and they instead touted it as a win. That's because they see addressing any sort of work requirements as an accomplishment. Here's Republican Representative Elise Stefanik.
ELISE STEFANIK: The Biden administration didn't want work requirements at all. They wanted a clean debt ceiling with no give. And we have accomplished this in this legislation.
BUSTILLO: Even though there are these new exemptions, progressive and hunger groups have criticized the bill because of that age increase. Here's Liza Lieberman, vice president of communications for a group called MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, who said these changes shouldn't have happened in the debt limit talks.
LIZA LIEBERMAN: It feels like it's illustrating the arbitrary nature of the time limit because it's playing numbers game.
BUSTILLO: And the outcome of this particular policy is really murky. The White House insists that the amount of people on work requirements before and after will not change, even as Republicans are arguing that they are bringing more people into the workforce. And a lot of this will come down to how states are going to be able to handle these changes. It's also important to note that this policy and the new exemptions will expire in 2030. So this is all temporary.
MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Ximena Bustillo.
Thanks for checking in.
BUSTILLO: Thank you.
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FADEL: Social media challenges have gone viral for years.
MARTÍNEZ: They often involve people recording themselves doing something dramatic or funny. For some, however, these dares have become fatal. Now, one Wisconsin mom plans to address YouTube's shareholders with the story of how her teenage son died.
FADEL: NPR's tech correspondent Dara Kerr joins us to tell us more.
Good morning, Dara.
DARA KERR, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.
FADEL: So tell us about this mom who's giving a speech to YouTube's shareholders today. What happened to her son?
KERR: Her name is Annie McGrath, and she's still reeling from the death of her 13-year-old son, Griffin, who passed away in 2018. He died from a blackout challenge that he and his friends had discovered on YouTube. The challenge involves holding your breath until you pass out. McGrath says the night it happened was a normal night. Griffin had been playing around, and then he went upstairs to talk to his friends. Here's what she says.
ANNIE MCGRATH: He went up to his room, and he never came back down. So - and I didn't know anything was wrong until it was too late.
KERR: What I've learned is that many more children and teens have died this way. Griffin is one of nearly 1,400 children who are known to have died from this blackout challenge, according to their parents.
FADEL: Fourteen hundred children dying from an online challenge.
FADEL: So what does McGrath hope to achieve by sharing her story with YouTube's investors?
KERR: So McGrath is a mom who's clearly channeling her grief. She wants to make sure this doesn't happen to another kid. A big part of that is pressuring a massive, powerful company like Alphabet to make a change. Alphabet is the parent company of both YouTube and Google, and YouTube has billions of users and recognizes this as a problem.
When I asked YouTube about McGrath's story, the spokeswoman didn't comment directly. She instead pointed me to YouTube's policies, under which it says it removes videos of what it calls extremely dangerous challenges. But McGrath says they're not implementing this policy. Every single day she sets a timer, and she goes to YouTube to find and report these videos. She says they're always possible to find, and some of them have been there for years. Part of what McGrath wants in talking to YouTube's investors is more clarity on how it makes decisions about what videos it removes from the site.
FADEL: OK, so put this in context here. This is one story of a larger story about social media harming society, especially kids. I mean, that's been a conversation around Instagram and Facebook, YouTube. Is McGrath speaking to shareholders part of a larger effort to protect kids?
KERR: Yes, totally. Right now, we're seeing a groundswell of action on this issue. Besides things like the blackout challenge, other parents say their kids have also died from things they saw on social media. So McGrath and many of the other parents are taking an all-tactics approach. Some, like McGrath, are in a class-action lawsuit against YouTube and TikTok. Others are lobbying Congress. Last week, the U.S. surgeon general spoke about the dangers of social media for children, and we've seen several bills introduced at the federal and state level. McGrath wants people to understand that any kid can fall victim to what they see online.
MCGRATH: So they can be the smartest kid in the world and winning a science bowl and perfect in math. And he could solve a Rubik's cube in eight seconds. You think they're mature, but they're still kids, and they're going to think, oh, well, they see it a bunch on YouTube, and it's not scary. It's normalized.
KERR: McGrath says that until she sees a change with YouTube, she and all the other parents she's working with are going to keep fighting.
FADEL: That's NPR's Dara Kerr.
Thanks so much.
KERR: Thank you.
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MARTÍNEZ: The defense chiefs from the U.S. and China are headlining an international defense summit this weekend, but they apparently won't be talking to each other.
FADEL: That's right. They're both attending the Asia-focused Shangri-La Dialogue that kicks off today in Singapore. But according to the U.S., China has already rejected an invitation to meet there.
MARTÍNEZ: We're joined now by NPR's Emily Feng, who is in Singapore covering the dialogue. Emily, just a week ago on this show, we were talking about what President Biden described as an expected thaw in relations. Why is the freezer door still closed?
EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Well, this thaw is not straightforward, and both China and the U.S. want it to happen on their terms. There was some hope, which is I think what you're pointing to, between the two countries this last month when they had a bunch of meetings. Beijing finally sent its ambassador to D.C. There were top commerce officials who talked trade in Washington. There was a Vienna meeting between the national security adviser and China's top diplomat. So the two countries were talking again, and things were looking up.
But when the U.S. proposed at this defense meeting here in - at the Shangri-La to meet between the two defense chiefs, Beijing said no. And the primary reason for that rejection was in 2018, the U.S. sanctioned the current China defense chief for buying Russian weapons. And so China's understandably been upset about this. They would like to see those sanctions lifted first before they have any meetings with U.S. officials.
MARTÍNEZ: And why is it important that the defense chiefs in particular talk?
FENG: It's important because you need communication between two of the most powerful militaries in the world. And U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke to this earlier this week when he was in Tokyo where he was visiting before he heads to the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore today.
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LLOYD AUSTIN: You've heard me talk a number of times about the importance of countries with significant capabilities being able to talk to each other so you can manage crises and prevent things from spiraling out of control unnecessarily.
FENG: He's referring here specifically to another incident that was just publicized this week in the South China Sea, where the U.S. accuses a Chinese fighter jet of buzzing a U.S. surveillance plane. And Austin has reason to be worried because more than two decades ago, a Chinese plane did actually collide with a U.S. surveillance plane in the South China Sea. In that crash, the Chinese pilot died. The U.S. pilot had to crash-land in China. The American crew was held for 10 days before they could go back home.
And this all happened when relations between the U.S. and China were better than they are now, so just imagine if something similar happened when the two sides are not talking. On trade and diplomacy, there are signs that this bilateral dialogue is mending. But in terms of military competition, the tension is escalating. The communication channels between the two countries on this issue have remained cut basically ever since former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan last summer and China got very upset.
MARTÍNEZ: Now, U.S.-China relations may be the headline for this thing, but this dialogue has a lot more to it.
FENG: Right. There are more than one-fourth of delegates who are from Southeast Asian countries. So this gathering is not just all about the U.S. and China, though to be fair, that is a lot of what Southeast Asian countries are talking about. They're trying to figure out how to fit themselves in between the broad contours of the superpower competition. And this includes the issue of Taiwan, which China claims. And even though I'm in Singapore - you know, we're a hemisphere away from Europe - the war in Ukraine is on the agenda here. There are European politicians here. And so far, Southeast Asia has remained pretty quiet on the issue. So that's going to be in talks this weekend as well.
MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Emily Feng in Singapore.
Emily, good to talk.
FENG: Thanks, A. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.