Jeffries says work requirements are a ‘nonstarter’ in debt ceiling fight

The head of the House Democrats said this week that tougher work requirements for social benefits won’t fly with members of his caucus, setting the stage for a drag-out fight with GOP leaders who are insisting on those provisions as a condition of raising the debt ceiling. 

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) on Monday night told members of the Democrats’ Steering and Policy Committee that “work requirements are a nonstarter” as bipartisan negotiators seek a deal to prevent a government default, according to a spokesperson.

That stipulation stands equal but opposite to the ‘red line’ drawn by Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Tuesday morning, when he told reporters that Republicans will insist on tougher work requirements as part of any agreement.

“Yes, it is,” McCarthy said, when asked if that’s a red line.

More coverage of the debt ceiling from The Hill:

House Republicans have already passed some work mandates as part of the debt limit package that moved through the lower chamber without Democratic support late last month. Their legislation would apply stricter work requirements to certain recipients of Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (previously known as food stamps) and other federal benefit programs.

“When you’re talking about work requirements, remember what we’re talking about: able-bodied people with no dependents,” McCarthy told reporters. “It’s 20 hours.” 

Democrats have widely rejected those changes, noting that many social benefit programs already have work requirements in place and blasting Republicans for proposing to cut benefits that are used to help children disproportionately. 

“The average SNAP benefit … is $6 per person per day,” Rep. Pete Aguilar (Calif.), chairman of the Democratic Caucus, said Tuesday during a press briefing in the Capitol. “That’s who Republicans are. They would rather cut that, or eliminate it, and take food out of the mouths of kids in order to make a political point.” 

President Biden had muddied the debate over work requirements over the weekend, when he appeared to be open to the concept, particularly under Medicaid.

“I’m waiting to hear what their exact proposal is,” Biden told reporters during a trip to Delaware.

Yet Biden’s liberal allies on and off of Capitol Hill have lambasted the tougher requirements, warning that they would only hurt low-income families that rely on certain benefit programs for basic necessities such as nutrition and health care. 

The president Monday appeared to walk back his comments, tweeting a warning about the detrimental effect the House Republican proposal would have on “older adults.” 

“Rather than push Americans into poverty, we should reduce the deficit by making sure the wealthy and large corporations pay their fair share in taxes,” Biden tweeted. 

The president is scheduled to meet Tuesday afternoon at the White House with Jeffries, McCarthy and the top Senate leaders on a path forward. 

Emily Brooks contributed.

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