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Biden says the debt deal is “very close,” even if two parties are far apart on work requirements

WASHINGTON (AP) — Job requirements for federal food aid recipients have emerged as a final sticking point in negotiations over the looming debt crisis, even as President Joe Biden said Friday that a deal is “very close.”

Biden’s optimism came as the deadline for a potentially catastrophic bankruptcy was pushed back to June 5 and negotiations between the White House and Republicans on raising the debt ceiling were likely to drag into another frustrating week. Both sides have suggested that one of the main impediments is a GOP effort to increase job requirements for recipients of food stamps and other federal aid programs, a longtime Republican goal that Democrats have vigorously opposed.

Even as they moved closer to a spending framework, both sides seemed to be digging into the work requirements. White House spokesman Andrew Bates called the GOP proposals “cruel and pointless” and said Biden and Democrats would oppose them.

Louisiana Representative Garret Graves, one of the negotiators for House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, was blunt when asked if the Republicans would budge on the issue: “Hell no, no chance,” he said.

The later “X date,” outlined in a letter from Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, put the risk of a devastating default four days higher than an earlier estimate. Yet Americans and the rest of the world viewed with unease the negotiating maneuvers that could plunge the US economy into chaos and undermine the world’s confidence in the country’s leadership.

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Still, Biden was in good spirits as he left for Memorial Day weekend at Camp David, stating, “It’s very close and I’m optimistic.”

Speaking to Republicans in the Capitol with Biden’s team in the White House, the president said, “Negotiations are underway. I hope tonight we’ll know if we can make a deal.” But a deal hadn’t materialized when McCarthy left the Capitol on Friday night.

In a blunt warning, Yellen said failure to act before the new date would “cause severe hardship for American families, damage our global leadership position and raise questions about our ability to defend our national security interests.”

Concerned retirees and others were already making contingency plans for missed checks, with the next Social Security payments next week.

It appears that Biden and Republican McCarthy struck a two-year budget-cutting deal that would also extend the debt limit to 2025 after the next presidential election.

But conversations about the proposed job requirements for recipients of Medicaid, food stamps and other assistance programs seemed to be at a standstill Friday afternoon.

Biden has said Medicaid job requirements would be a nonstarter. But at first he seemed open to possible changes to food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

The Republican proposal would save $11 billion over 10 years by raising the upper age limit for existing standards that require able-bodied adults who don’t live with dependents to work or attend training programs. While current law applies these standards to recipients under age 50, the House bill would raise the age to adults age 55 and under. The GOP proposal would also reduce the number of exemptions states can grant to some recipients who meet those requirements.

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Biden’s stance on the SNAP job requirements appeared to have hardened Friday, as spokesman Bates said House Republicans threaten to trigger an unprecedented recession “unless they can get food out of the mouths of hungry Americans.”

Any deal would have to be a political compromise, with support from both Democrats and Republicans to get past the divided Congress. Failure to lift the borrowing limit, now $31 trillion, to pay the country’s incurred bills would send a shock wave through the US and the global economy.

But many of the far-right Trump-aligned Republicans in Congress have long been skeptical of the Treasury Department’s projections, and they are pressuring McCarthy to stand firm.

As talks progressed again late into the evening, one of the negotiators, Rep. Patrick McHenry, RN.C., called Biden’s comments “a hopeful sign”. But he also warned that there are still “bottlenecks” standing in the way of a final agreement.

While the deal is contouring to cut spending for 2024 and impose a 1% cap on spending growth for 2025, the two sides remain locked in several stipulations.

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House Republicans had pushed the issue to its limits and showed risky political bravado by leaving town before Memorial Day. Lawmakers are not expected to return to work until Tuesday, but now their return is uncertain.

Weeks of negotiations between Republicans and the White House have failed to produce a deal — in part because the Biden administration has resisted negotiating the debt limit with McCarthy, arguing that the country’s full confidence and credit should not be used as a bargaining chip. leverage to weed out other partisan priorities. .

“We have to spend less than last year. That’s the premise,” McCarthy said.

One idea is to fix the topline budget numbers, but then add a “snap-back” provision to force cuts if Congress is unable to meet the new targets during its annual appropriation process.

Lawmakers are almost certain to reclaim some $30 billion in unused COVID-19 funds now that the pandemic emergency has officially been lifted.

McCarthy has promised lawmakers he will abide by the rule of posting any bill 72 hours before a vote. The Democrat-led Senate has vowed to move quickly to get the package to Biden’s office.


Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick, Stephen Groves, Farnoush Amiri, Seung Min Kim and Kevin Freking and video journalist Rick Gentilo contributed to this report.

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