A top Republican negotiating a debt ceiling hike blasted the White House on Thursday over work requirements for social benefits programs, indicating that the thorny issue remains a sticking point as the country inches closer to a government default.
Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) argued the Democrats’ staunch opposition to tougher work requirements will threaten the recipients of other federal benefit programs. He characterized overall progress as “slow.”
“Their efforts actually put in jeopardy those very benefits to senior citizens like Medicare and Social Security, because they’re refusing to negotiate on work requirements,” Graves said as he emerged from the office of Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) after 7 p.m. Thursday evening.
“I mean, this is just a crazy calculation on their part,” he added.
Graves emphasized that work requirements are not the only barrier to a deal, but rank among the most significant.
“We have a lot of hangups, but that’s one of the bigger issues that we’re dealing with,” he said.
Asked Thursday if both sides were getting further along on the issue of work requirements, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) — another GOP negotiator — told reporters, “that’s the reason why I don’t have a major update for you on anything major in terms of policy and numbers.”
“The frame has to all fit together for this thing to be able to fly,” he added.
The debt limit and spending cuts bill House Republicans passed last month would increase work requirements to 20 hours per week for recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (previously known as food stamps) who are between the ages of 50 and 56. It also includes changes for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and an outline for work requirements for Medicaid.
McCarthy and other Republicans have consistently said the provisions would affect only able-bodied individuals who do not have dependents — changes they say are designed to prevent long-term reliance on government help while also helping businesses field new workers.
House Democrats have been adamantly opposed to any tougher work requirements as part of a final deal — a change rejected by most members of both the Congressional Black and Progressive caucuses. Combined, those groups constitute a bulk of the Democratic Caucus.
Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.), the chairman of the Black Caucus, told reporters Thursday that the charge would hurt low-income families, suggesting that if Republicans want to heighten work requirements, they should also look into separate reforms such as a minimum wage hike and childcare subsidies.
“We need work to pay for itself,” he said.
Horsford also said Democrats are pressing Biden to hold firm in his opposition to the Republicans’ demands for tougher work requirements as part of the debt ceiling package.
“We’ve also made it clear to the White House, to reiterate to the president, to continue to fight — to stand strong with the American people and House Democrats against Republican attempts on work requirements, or weakening water and environmental protections on permitting.”
Graves’s comments on work requirements come a week out from June 1, the day Treasury Department Secretary Janet Yellen has said the U.S. could default by. McHenry on Thursday said that deadline is upping the pressure on negotiators.
“The pressure is on,” he said. “And the White House recognizes that, we recognize that, but there are certain terms that have to be met for this to make its way through the House of Representatives. And those things need to be dealt with.”
Leaving the Capitol on Thursday, McCarthy said the two sides have not reached an agreement.
“We worked all day today, we’ll continue to work through the night. There’s no agreement,” he told reporters. “Look, it’s not easy, this is a big issue, and it’s not something you could solve easily. We want to make sure it’s worthy of the American people, and we’ll continue to work until we get it done.”
“We know where our differences lie, we’ve worked throughout the day, we’ll continue to work to try to be able to solve the problem. But there is no agreement,” he later added.