Left-wing Democratic lawmakers in Congress are criticizing President Joe Biden for signaling an openness to impose work requirements on welfare recipients, after comments he made on Monday, even as Republicans claim that they are “essential” to any debt ceiling deal.
Biden, who is currently negotiating a deal on raising the nation’s debt limit with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, said that he is open to hearing a new proposal from the GOP on the issue, stating on Sunday that “I voted for tougher aid programs that’s (sic) in the law now, but for Medicaid, it’s a different story. And so I’m waiting to hear what their exact proposal is.” Many left-wing Democrats have taken sharp exception to those comments, claiming that Biden was abandoning their policy priorities and low-income voters.
“We did not elect Joe Biden of 1986. We elected Joe Biden of 2020,” said Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, to Politico. She said that any strengthening of work requirements would be an “absolutely terrible idea” and “a nonstarter for many of us across the Democratic caucus.”
Echoing Jayapal, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries has indicated that he will not back a deal on the debt ceiling that includes work requirements, according to Politico’s Manu Raju. Other prominent left-wing members of the caucus, such as Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, have previously criticized attempts to impose such requirements during the Trump administration and are unlikely to support a bill with them.
By contrast, McCarthy, on Tuesday, said that work requirements must be included in any deal to raise the debt ceiling, saying that “every data point shows that it helps people move forward…the public wants it [and] both parties want it,” in comments reported by C-SPAN.
The requirements pertain to public welfare programs such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), which issues “food stamps” to low-income families to buy food, the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program, which provides direct cash transfers to beneficiaries, and Medicaid. In the Limit, Save, Grow Act, House Republicans sought to strengthen existing work requirements for these programs, including raising the age exemption from work as well as setting the number of hours to be worked.
Biden, as a senator from Delaware in 1996, supported the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, the result of a compromise between Democratic President Bill Clinton and Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich to raise work requirements for various public welfare programs, with the objective of reducing welfare dependency.
On Monday, a spokesperson for Biden said that “he will not accept proposals that take away people’s health coverage.”
Jeffries, McCarthy, and the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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