WASHINGTON (AP) — Work requirements for federal food aid recipients have emerged as a final sticking point in negotiations over the looming debt crisis, even as President Joe Biden said Friday that an agreement was “very close”.
Biden’s optimism came as the deadline for a potentially catastrophic default was pushed back to June 5 and looked likely to drag negotiations between the White House and Republicans over raising the debt ceiling into another week. frustrating. Both sides have suggested that one of the main delays is a GOP effort to increase work requirements for recipients of food stamps and other federal assistance programs, a longtime Republican goal to which Democrats are committed. are vigorously opposed.
Even as they approached a spending framework, each side seemed to have weighed in on the demands of the job. White House spokesman Andrew Bates called the GOP proposals “cruel and senseless” and said Biden and Democrats would oppose them.
Louisiana Rep. Garret Graves, one of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s negotiators, was blunt when asked if Republicans might back down on the issue: “Hell no, not a chance,” he replied.
The subsequent “X date”, spelled out in a letter from Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, exposed the risk of a devastating default at four days beyond an earlier estimate. Yet Americans and the world have watched with concern as negotiations teeter on the brink that could throw the US economy into chaos and undermine the world’s confidence in the nation’s leadership.
Still, Biden was optimistic as he left for Memorial Day weekend at Camp David, saying, “It’s very close and I’m optimistic.”
As Republicans on Capitol Hill chatted with Biden’s White House team, the president said, “There is a negotiation going on. I hope we will know by tonight if we can reach an agreement. But a deal had not been reached when McCarthy left the Capitol on Friday night.
In a blunt warning, Yellen said failure to act on the new date would “cause serious hardship for American families, harm our position as a global leader and raise questions about our ability to defend our national security interests.” .
Anxious retirees and others were already making contingency plans for missed checks, with the next Social Security payments due next week.
Biden and Republican McCarthy appear to be closing in on a two-year budget cut deal that would also extend the debt limit through 2025 after the next presidential election.
But talks on proposed work requirements for recipients of Medicaid, food stamps and other assistance programs seemed to stall Friday afternoon.
Biden said Medicaid work requirements would be a no-start. But he initially seemed open to possible changes to food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
The Republican proposal would save $11 billion over 10 years by raising the maximum age for existing standards that require able-bodied adults who don’t live with dependents to work or attend training programs. While current law applies these standards to beneficiaries under age 50, the House bill would raise the age to include adults 55 and under. The GOP proposal would also reduce the number of exemptions that states can grant to certain recipients subject to these requirements.
Biden’s stance on SNAP’s job demands appeared to have hardened on Friday, when spokesman Bates said House Republicans were threatening to trigger an unprecedented recession “unless they can pull out of the food from the mouths of starving Americans”.
Any deal would have to be a political compromise, with support from Democrats and Republicans to pass the divided Congress. Failure to lift the borrowing limit, now $31 trillion, to pay the bills incurred by the country would send shockwaves through the US and global economy.
But many Trump-aligned Republicans in Congress have long been skeptical of the Treasury’s projections, and they’re urging McCarthy to hold on.
As talks progressed late into the night, one of the negotiators, Rep. Patrick McHenry, RN.C., called Biden’s comments a “sign of hope.” But he also warned there were still ‘thorny points’ preventing a final deal.
As the outlines of the deal take shape to cut spending for 2024 and impose a 1% cap on spending growth for 2025, the two sides remain locked in on various provisions.
House Republicans had pushed the issue to the brink, displaying risky political bravado by leaving town for the Memorial Day holiday. Lawmakers are tentatively not expected to return to work until Tuesday, but now their return is uncertain.
Weeks of negotiations between Republicans and the White House failed to yield a deal — in part because the Biden administration resisted negotiating with McCarthy over the debt limit, arguing that full faith and credit of the country should not be used as leverage to extract other partisan priorities.
“We have to spend less than we spent last year. That’s the starting point,” McCarthy said.
One idea is to fix the Main Estimates numbers, but then add a “rollback” provision to enforce the cuts if Congress is unable, during its annual appropriations process, to to achieve new goals.
Lawmakers are almost certain to recover some $30 billion in unspent COVID-19 funds now that the pandemic emergency has been officially lifted.
McCarthy promised lawmakers he would abide by the rule to publish any bill for 72 hours before voting. The Democratic-held Senate pledged to move quickly to send the package to Biden’s office.
Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick, Stephen Groves, Farnoush Amiri, Seung Min Kim and Kevin Freking and video journalist Rick Gentilo contributed to this report.