Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Debt Ceiling Negotiations Stalled Because of Welfare

The Republican proposal would save $11 billion over 10 years...

(Headline USAWork requirements for federal welfare programs have emerged as a final sticking point in negotiations over raising the debt ceiling, even as Joe Biden said a deal is “very close.”

Biden’s confused optimism, in comments to reporters as he left the White House on Friday evening, came as the deadline for a default was pushed back to June 5.

House negotiators departed the Capitol after 2 a.m. Saturday without a deal. They were expected to return hours later in hopes of reaching agreement with the White House over the holiday weekend.

Both sides have suggested one of the main holdups is a GOP effort to expand existing work requirements for recipients of food stamps and other federal welfare programs.

Even as they came closer to a framework on spending, each side seemed dug in on the work requirements.

Louisiana Rep. Garret Graves, one of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s negotiators, was blunt when asked if Republicans might relent on the issue: “Hell no, not a chance.”

Yet Biden was upbeat as he departed for Camp David: “It’s very close, and I’m optimistic.”

Biden and McCarthy, R-Calif., have seemed to be narrowing on a two-year budget-slashing deal that would also extend the debt limit into 2025 past the next presidential election. The contours of the deal have been taking shape to cut spending for 2024 and impose a 1% cap on spending growth for 2025.

But talks over the proposed work requirements for recipients of Medicaid, food stamps and other aid programs seemed at a standstill Friday afternoon.

Biden has said the work requirements for Medicaid would be a nonstarter. But he initially seemed potentially open to negotiating minor changes on 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 do not live with dependents to work or attend training programs. While current law applies those standards to recipients under the age of 50, the Republican plan would raise the age to include adults 55 and under. It would also decrease the number of exemptions that states can grant to some recipients subject to those requirements.

Watchful House Democrats are also pressing Biden to reject any new work requirements. The top three House Democratic leaders led by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York spoke late Thursday with the White House.

The Democratic-held Senate has stayed out of the negotiations, leaving the talks to Biden and McCarthy. But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York has pledged to move quickly to send a compromise package to Biden’s desk.

Weeks of negotiations between Republicans and the White House have failed to produce a deal because the Biden administration resisted for months on negotiating with McCarthy over the debt limit.

But House Republicans united behind a plan to cut spending, narrowly passing sweeping legislation in late April that would raise the debt ceiling in exchange for the spending reductions.

“We have to spend less than we spent last year. That is the starting point,” McCarthy has insisted.

Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press

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