US Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (L), Republican of California, and US President Joe Biden attend the annual Friends of Ireland St. Patrick’s Day Luncheon at the US Capitol in Washington, DC 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 Tuesday at the White House for a much-anticipated meeting on the debt ceiling, tighter labor requirements for social safety net programs are looming as a potential area of compromise.
The limits are a key demand from House Republicans, who included them in a partisan debt limit bill passed in the House last month.
“The public wants it,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Tuesday, citing a recent ballot initiative conducted in Wisconsin. “Both parties want it, the idea that [Democrats] Wanting to put us in default because they don’t want to work with us is ridiculous to me.”
But they also represent a red line for some progressive Democrats, a fact that could upset the voting results of a debt-limit deal that could be passed in the House of Representatives.
The increase in current labor requirements for federal assistance programs is “a non-starter for me,” Rep. Ro Khanna, a California Democrat and member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told MSNBC.
“It’s just cruel, especially with the economy slowing down,” Khanna said. “I hope the President sticks by his statement that we can pay off our debts and then negotiate the budget.”
But Biden and the White House have signaled in recent days that the requirements could be on the table as Congress struggles to reach a timely agreement to raise or suspend the debt limit to avoid economic fallout from a potential US debt default , which could occur as early as the first week of June.
Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris met with McCarthy, Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, DN.Y., Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
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The White House also said on Tuesday that it would cancel the second leg of the president’s forthcoming international trip given the delicate state of the debt ceiling negotiations.
Biden is currently scheduled to leave for Japan on Wednesday, where he will attend the G-7 leaders’ summit. He will now return to the United States immediately after the meeting on Sunday and will not make any scheduled visits to Papua New Guinea and Australia, a source familiar with Biden’s travel schedule told NBC News.
Over the weekend, Biden answered a question about job requirements by referring to his own Senate track record of voting on social work requirements in the 1990s.
“I voted for tougher support programs, that’s in the law now, but it’s a different story for Medicaid,” Biden said Sunday in Rehoboth, Delaware. “And so I’m waiting to hear what her exact proposal is.”
A Republican bill passed last month included stricter labor requirements not only for Medicaid but also for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) funds and food stamps from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
The White House reiterated Tuesday that Biden would reject at least some of the proposed job requirements.
Biden “will not accept proposals that deprive people of health insurance,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. But she didn’t say he wouldn’t accept changes to food stamps or temporary relief programs.
This is an evolving story. Please check back for updates.