Why Biden picked Shalanda Young and Steve Ricchetti to negotiate with Republicans on the debt ceiling

Steve Zicchetti and Shlanda Young

Biden administration officials Steve Zicchetti and Shalanda Young. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP; Mariam Zuhaib/AP)

President Biden has tasked two members of his administration — Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young and White House senior adviser Steve Ricchetti — to negotiate with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s proxy to try to avert an imminent default on U.S. debt payments.

With the country in danger of hitting the existing debt ceiling on June 1, the consensus among economists is that not raising the spending limit would result in catastrophic consequences for the U.S. economy and for average Americans.

McCarthy and his Republican colleagues, meanwhile, are insisting that Biden slash spending that funds some of the president’s top priorities in exchange for agreeing to lift the debt ceiling.

Still, the selection of Young and Ricchetti was welcomed by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz.

“Choosing Steve Ricchetti and Shalanda Young to lead these negotiations was the best move the Biden administration could have done,” Sinema told Yahoo News partner Politico in a Wednesday interview. “It would have been good if it happened sooner, but the fact that it happened yesterday is really good. And there is enough time for them to get to an agreement, but it couldn’t happen with all the others in the room.”

Here’s a look at the two people Biden has chosen to help guide the nation through the current impasse.

Shalanda Young

Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young

Young testifying before the House Appropriations Committee, March 23. (Jose Luis Magana/AP)

Young was appointed by Biden in 2021 to oversee the Office of Management and Budget, the first Black woman to hold that position. Previously she served as deputy budget director and acting director of that agency, which oversees the federal budget.

“At OMB, I get to work with an amazing team that is committed to serving the American public,” she said during a May 2022 event for the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan nonprofit based in D.C., adding that, at the agency, she shared Biden’s goal of “restoring trust in government — from making evidence-based decisions to keeping improper political interference from undermining the work, and ultimately our country.”

Before joining the Biden administration, Young worked at the House Appropriations Committee for more than a decade, overseeing annual appropriations bills. She also was involved in drafting proposals focused on ending the 2018-2019 federal shutdown, handled disaster aid and played a major role in distributing COVID-related spending.

She has impressed some lawmakers on the other side of the aisle. “You might talk me out of voting for you, but I doubt it,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told her during her confirmation hearing for her current role.

Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., remarked at the time that in his decade-long tenure in Congress, he had “never worked with a budget director that was as attentive, that was as understanding” as Young.

Young is a native of Baton Rouge, La., and earned degrees from Loyola University New Orleans and Tulane University.

Steve Ricchetti

Steve Ricchetti

Ricchetti leaving a bipartisan infrastructure meeting on Capitol Hill, June 22, 2021. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

Ricchetti, currently the counselor to the President of the United States, worked in both the Clinton and Obama administrations, and joined then-Vice President Biden’s staff in 2012. He went on to serve as chairman of Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign.

In his earlier days in Washington, he was a legislative aide for President Bill Clinton.

Currently, Ricchetti has helped broker deals on legislative packages that have become key aspects of the president’s domestic policy agenda.

A native of Cleveland who earned a law degree from George Mason University, Ricchetti played a major role in negotiations over the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, which Congress passed in 2021, one of Biden’s biggest achievements to date.

The New York Times reported that Ricchetti has also helped the president outside of the political arena, according to people close to both men.

Republican side

Mitch McConnell, right, and Kevin McCarthy

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy speak to reporters after meeting with President Biden and fellow congressional leaders at the White House on Tuesday. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Ricchetti and Young are not the only subordinates who have been chosen to hammer out a debt ceiling deal. McCarthy picked Rep. Garret Graves, R-La. to represent Republicans at the negotiating table.

Like Young, Graves is also a native of Baton Rouge, where he currently lives with his wife and their three children, according to his congressional website. The chairman of the Aviations Subcommittee on Transportation, Graves has been credited with using technology to improve efficiency within the federal government.

He’s described as a policy wonk and Capitol Hill insider by his colleagues, according to NBC News, and has been a longtime staffer in both houses of Congress.

While both parties agree that negotiating the standoff through proxies has helped move the process forward, it remains to be seen whether whatever deal is reached will be agreeable to Democrats, who are wary the administration will give away too much, and to Republicans, who are using a potential default as leverage for drastic spending cuts.

“We’re going to hold the line. I think that’s what Graves is going to do, that’s what the speaker’s going to do,” Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., told reporters Wednesday.

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