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Meet Shalanda Young, one of Biden's top negotiators in the debt ceiling talks

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The commander in chief has called her the woman who controls all the money. Shalanda Young is President Biden's budget director. Before that, she was a top aide in Congress for more than a decade, where she worked behind the scenes on epic government funding battles. Now she's a top negotiator at the White House, squaring off with Republicans and trying to avert a catastrophic debt default. NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez has more.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: In 2019, Shalanda Young was in the middle of a dire situation. As a staff director for the House Appropriations Committee, she was crafting proposals and holding backroom negotiations, trying to end the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.

NITA LOWEY: She was a steady negotiator. Nothing would ruffle her.

ORDOÑEZ: That's Young's old boss, former House Appropriations chair Nita Lowey. It was a challenging moment for the country costing the U.S. economy billions. Some government spending was delayed, and hundreds of thousands of federal workers were furloughed or working without pay. Lowey says Young was critical to reaching a deal that Republicans could swallow in order to reopen the government. Armed with facts, Young would catch the subtle moments during talks and even use secret hand signals to let her boss know when things were moving in the right direction or veering off course.

LOWEY: I can remember at one point in the negotiation she was in back of me, and she was giving me advice, pointing one finger in my back. Then I'd get two fingers in my back. She - I could always count on her.

ORDOÑEZ: It was that kind of experience, finding compromise even in the most toxic of environments, that's earned young the trust of both Republicans and Democrats. Now she's in charge of the Office of Management and Budget. It's a big role that generally is behind the scenes, but it's become a lot more prominent in recent weeks. Biden named two people for these last-ditch talks. One is Steve Ricchetti, one of his oldest hands. The other is Young, a newer member of his circle. Biden has put his faith in Young to help find a way to cut through the raw politics of Washington and find an agreement that Republicans can, once again, live with and prevent the government from veering off a financial cliff.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We have to be in a position where we can sell it to our constituencies. We're pretty well-divided in the House, almost down the middle, and it's not any different in the Senate. So we've got to get something we can sell to both sides.

ORDOÑEZ: It's not just Biden who has faith in her. So do Republicans. In between partisan jabs at the president, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has taken the time to single her out.

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KEVIN MCCARTHY: Highly respect them, their knowledge. They've been - Shalanda's worked on approps (ph). Everybody in this place knows her, respects her greatly.

ORDOÑEZ: Since the beginning of the negotiations, Young herself has made clear that her focus is on the pragmatic.

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SHALANDA YOUNG: This might be Shalanda the optimist, and I've worked with a lot of those members of Congress in my nearly 15 years on the Hill. They all know the devastating results of default.

ORDOÑEZ: And she says nothing will be resolved until they can all get past the rancor of the politics.

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YOUNG: We saw the partisan process play out. Now we need to pivot to a bipartisan process. That's the only thing that's going to make it to the president's desk and avoid default.

ORDOÑEZ: At least that's the goal. But they still have a way to go. Franco Ordoñez, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.