Biden open to tougher work requirements for food stamps in debt-ceiling talks with Republicans

WASHINGTON − President Joe Biden is leaving the door open to stricter work requirements for federal aid including food stamps to get the support of Republicans in Congress to raise the debt ceiling as the president and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy prepare to reconvene Tuesday at the White House.

Biden, speaking to reporters Sunday in Delaware, noted that as a senator he "voted for tougher aid programs that's in the law now" when asked whether he is open to Republicans' debt-ceiling proposals for tougher work requirements.

"For Medicaid, it's a different story," Biden said, ruling out changes to the health care program for low-income Americans. "And so I'm waiting to hear what their exact proposal is."

Biden optimistic, while McCarthy says side remain 'far apart'

  • Tuesday's meeting − which will also includes Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries − follows a White House meeting last week that failed to produce a breakthrough.

  • A second meeting was initially set for Friday but postponed as staff for the White House and congressional leaders continued talks.

  • "It never is good to characterize a negotiation in the middle of a negotiation," Biden said Sunday. "I remain optimistic because I'm a congenital optimist. But I really think there’s a desire on their part as well as ours to reach an agreement, and I think we’ll be able to do it.”

  • McCarthy seemed much less optimistic Monday, telling reporters, "I still think we're far apart." He added that the White House isn't "talking anything serious" and "it seems like they want to default more than a deal." He said a deal needs to be in place by this weekend to pass something before the end of the month.

  • Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, in a letter Monday, stuck by her estimate that the U.S. is on track to run out of money as early as June 1.

President Joe Biden departs after having lunch with family at Vietnam Cafe in Philadelphia, Monday, May 15, 2023, after attending his granddaughter Maisy Biden's commencement ceremony at the University of Pennsylvania.

Work requirements targeted by Republicans

McCarthy-backed legislation to tie $4.5 trillion in cuts to raising the debt ceiling would expand work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP, which provides monthly food benefits to about 40 million low-income Americans each month.

The bill, which passed the Republican-controlled House by a 217-215 vote, would make able-bodied adults without dependent children subject to work requirements to receive SNAP benefits until they're 55 years old, up from 49. The Congressional Budget Office estimated the higher threshold would mean a loss of SNAP benefits for 275,000 Americans and savings of $11 billion.

The bill would also make it harder for states to exempt its residents from work and job training requirements to receive STAP benefits. Republicans have also proposed less flexibility for states to administer the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and a requirement that Medicaid recipients participate in working-related activities at least 80 hours a month.

Michael Kikukawa, a White House spokesman said "the president has been clear that he will not accept proposals that take away peoples’ health coverage. The president has also been clear that he will not accept policies that push Americans into poverty. He will evaluate whatever proposals Republicans bring to the table based on those principles.”

U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks to reporters on his way to the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on May 15, 2023 in Washington, DC. McCarthy will meet with President Joe Biden on Tuesday as debt ceiling talks continue.

Biden not ruling out skipping overseas trip to focus on debt ceiling

Republicans have demanded that spending cuts be a part of congressional action to raise the debt ceiling and avoid a default that would occur if the U.S. is unable to pay its bills.

Biden has said he won't negotiate with Republicans about raising the debt ceiling, which he's said should take place without conditions. But he's left the door open to bargaining with Republicans by saying he's willing to discuss budgets separately − not under the threat of default.

In addition to work requirements, other focuses of debt-ceiling talks include permitting reform for oil and gas projects, possible caps on future discretionary spending and rescinding unspent COVID-19 rescue funds, according to Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., who is serving as McCarthy's deputy in debt-ceiling discussions.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called staff-level talks on the debt ceiling "productive" but would not elaborate in a briefing Friday.

Meanwhile, Biden still hasn't ruled out skipping this week's G7 Summit this week in Japan if the two sides aren't on track to reach an agreement. "Hopefully we'll make it," said Biden, who is scheduled to depart Wednesday.

Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden open to tougher work requirements in debt-ceiling talks