Biden Signals He May Cave to GOP on Some Work Requirements in Debt Ceiling Bill

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President Joe Biden said he is “confident” he can reach a spending deal with Republicans to avert a default that could include some Republican demands for work requirements for those seeking federal assistance.

“I voted years ago for the work requirements that exist, but it’s possible there could be a few others but not anything of any consequence,” Biden told reporters in the Roosevelt Room on Wednesday, minutes before leaving the White House for a curtailed trip to Asia.

Biden’s remarks on the debt limit negotiations were added to his schedule at the last minute, just before his departure for meetings with the leaders of G7 nations in Hiroshima, Japan. Biden said he’s cutting short his trip to Asia, skipping planned stops in Australia and Papua New Guinea, in order to return Sunday for additional talks on the debt limit and a press conference on the topic. Time is running out for a deal; the U.S. Treasury estimates the country will run out of cash to pay its bills as soon as June 1.

The negotiations have been stuck in part on a Republican demand that millions of Americans who receive food stamps and federal health insurance show longer work hours to qualify for benefits. The House passed a debt limit bill in late April that included such requirements.

Biden said Wednesday he was open to having some work requirements, but said he wouldn’t sign off on measures that block access to medical care. “I’m not going to accept any work requirements that’s going to impact on medical health needs of people. I’m not going to accept work requirements that go much beyond what is already” in place, Biden said.

Still, accepting some of the work requirements in the GOP bill would be a concession from Biden that has already angered members of his own party. “It’s a nonstarter for me,” Rep. Ro Khanna, Democrat from California, said Tuesday on MSNBC. “The studies are so clear that work requirements don’t make people work more, what it does is it deprives people who need the help of food, people who are on the street, people who are homeless, people who are disabled.” The Republican package that passed the House require some adult recipients of federal Medicaid healthcare to work, do community service, earn a certain monthly income, or spend 80 hours per month in an employment program. That plan would also raise the age of childless adults from 49 to 55 who must meet work requirements to qualify for food stamps.

Read More: What Republican Work Requirements in the Debt Ceiling Bill Would Do

While Biden is out of the country, he and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy designated a smaller group of negotiators to “hammer out our differences,” Biden said. Those negotiators met Tuesday night and are meeting again Wednesday. The group includes Biden’s close advisor Steve Ricchetti, director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs Louisa Terrell, and director of the Office of Management and Budget Shalanda Young, according to a White House official. McCarthy has tapped Louisiana Republican Rep. Garret Graves to fine-tune the details with the White House team.

After meeting with Biden in the Oval Office on Tuesday, McCarthy called a deal “possible,” but said the two sides were still “far apart.”

Along with work requirements, negotiators have also discussed bringing back to the Treasury $30 billion in unspent COVID-19 relief funds, changing permitting rules to boost energy development, and putting caps on government spending through the end of Biden’s term.

“The nation has never defaulted on its debt and it never will, and we are going to continue these discussions with congressional leaders in the coming days until we reach an agreement,” Biden said.

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