US Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (L), Republican of California, and US President Joe Biden attend the annual Friends of Ireland luncheon on St. Patrick’s Day at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on March 17, 2023. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)
Andrew Caballero-reynolds | Afp | Getty Images
WASHINGTON — As President Joe Biden hosts congressional leaders at the White House for a highly anticipated meeting on the debt limit Tuesday, stricter work requirements for social safety net programs are emerging as potential area of compromise.
The restrictions are a key demand of House Republicans, who included them in a partisan debt limit bill that passed the House last month.
“The public wants it,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Tuesday, citing a recent ballot initiative in Wisconsin. “Both parties want it, the idea that [Democrats] want to put us into a default because they will not work with us on that is ludicrous to me.”
But they are also a red line for some progressive Democrats, a fact that could scramble the vote math of any debt limit deal that could pass the House.
Increasing the current work requirements for federal assistance programs are “a nonstarter for me,” said Rep. Ro Khanna, a California Democrat and member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, on MSNBC.
“It’s just cruel, especially as we see the slowing down of the economy,” Khanna said. “I’m hopeful the president will stick to what he said, that we pay our debts, and then we can negotiate on the budget.”
But Biden and the White House have signaled in recent days that the requirements could be on the table, as Congress races to reach a deal to raise or suspend the debt limit in time to avoid economic fallout from a potential U.S. debt default that could come as early as the first week of June.
Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were meeting with McCarthy, Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
The White House also said Tuesday that it would cancel the second leg of the president’s upcoming international trip, given the delicate state of debt ceiling negotiations.
Biden is currently scheduled to depart Wednesday for Japan, where he will attend the G-7 leaders summit. He will now return to the U.S. on Sunday immediately after the meeting ends, and will not make planned visits to Papua New Guinea and Australia, a source familiar with Biden’s trip planning told NBC News.
Over the weekend, Biden answered a question about the work requirements by pointing to his own Senate record of voting for welfare work requirements in the 1990s.
“I voted for tougher aid programs, that’s in the law now, but for Medicaid it’s a different story,” Biden said Sunday in Rehoboth, Del. “And so I’m waiting to hear what their exact proposal is.”
A Republican bill passed last month included stricter work requirements not only for Medicaid, but for the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or TANF, funds, as well as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program food stamps.
The White House reiterated Tuesday that Biden would reject at least some of the proposed work requirements.
Biden “will not accept proposals that will take away people’s health coverage,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. She did not say, however, that he would not accept changes to food stamps or temporary assistance programs.
This is a developing story, please check back for updates.