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Biden: Debt ceiling deal to avoid default ‘very close’

Work requirements for federal food aid recipients have emerged as the final hurdle in talks over the looming debt crisis, even as President Joe Biden said Friday that a deal is “very close.”

Biden’s optimism was fueled by the deadline for a potentially catastrophic default being pushed back to June 5 and talks between the White House and Republicans likely to drag on raising the debt limit into another frustrating week. Both sides have suggested that one of the GOP’s main holdups is boosting work requirements for recipients of food stamps and other federal aid programs, a longtime Republican goal the Democrats have strongly opposed.

Even as they neared a framework on spending, each side seemed dug in on the requirements of the job. White House spokesman Andrew Bates called the GOP proposals “cruel and senseless” and said Biden and the Democrats would stand against them.

One of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s interlocutors, Louisiana Rep. When Garrett Graves asked if Republicans could count on him on the issue: “Hell not, not a chance,” he said.

A letter from Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen later set the risk of a catastrophic default on the “X-Date”, four days earlier than previously estimated. Still, Americans and the world looked uneasily at the fragility of talks that could plunge the US economy into chaos and undermine the world’s confidence in the nation’s leadership.

Yet Biden was upbeat as he departed for Memorial Day weekend at Camp David, declaring, “It’s so close, and I’m optimistic.”

Speaking with Republicans in the Capitol alongside Biden’s team at the White House, the president said: “Negotiations are ongoing. I hope that by tonight we will know whether we will be able to reach a settlement. But when McCarthy left the Capitol on Friday evening a deal had not been reached.

In a stern warning, Yellen said that failing to act by the new date “will cause severe hardship to American families, damage our global leadership position and call into question our ability to protect our national security interests.”

With the next Social Security payment due next week, anxious retirees and others were already making contingency plans for missed checks.

Biden and Republican McCarthy appear to be narrowing a deal on a two-year budget cut that would also raise the debt ceiling through 2025, ahead of the next presidential election.

But talks on proposed work requirements for recipients of Medicaid, food stamps and other aid programs seemed deadlocked Friday afternoon.

Biden has said that Medicaid work requirements would be a non-starter. But initially he appeared 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 maximum age to the current standards, which require able-bodied adults who do not live with dependents to work or participate in training programs. While current law applies those standards to recipients under age 50, the House bill would raise the age to include adults age 55 and younger. The GOP proposal would also reduce the number of exemptions states can grant to certain recipients subject to those requirements.

Biden’s position on the SNAP work requirements appeared hard until Friday, when spokeswoman Bates said House Republicans were threatening to trigger an unprecedented recession “unless they can take the food out of the mouths of hungry Americans.”

Any deal would need to be a political compromise, with support from both Democrats and Republicans, in order to pass a divided Congress. Failure to lift the borrowing limit, which now stands at $31 trillion, to pay the country’s bills would shock the US and global economy.

But many hard-right Trump-aligned Republicans in Congress have long been skeptical of the Treasury’s projections, and they’ve been pressing McCarthy to keep out.

As talks pushed into another late night, one of the negotiators, Rep. Patrick McHenry, R.N.C., called Biden’s comments “a hopeful sign.” But he also cautioned that there were still “sticking points” impeding a final agreement.

While the framework of the deal is shaping up to cut spending for 2024 and impose a 1% cap on spending growth for 2025, both sides are stuck on various provisions.

The issue was pushed to the brink by House Republicans, displaying risky political courage in leaving town for the Memorial Day holiday. Lawmakers are not expected to return to work until Tuesday, but their return is now uncertain.

Weeks of talks between Republicans and the White House have failed to produce a deal – in part because the Biden administration resisted negotiating with McCarthy on the debt ceiling, arguing that the country’s full faith and credit would be used by others. It should not be used as leverage to elicit partisan preferences. ,

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

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

After the state of emergency related to the pandemic is officially lifted, lawmakers must return nearly $30 billion in unspent COVID-19 funds.

McCarthy has promised lawmakers that he will adhere to the rule of posting any bill 72 hours before voting. The Democratic-held Senate has vowed to move quickly to send the package to Biden’s desk.


Associated Press writers Marie Claire Jalonic, Stephen Groves, Farnoush Amiri, Seung Min Kim and Kevin Freaking and video journalist Rick Gentillo contributed to this report.

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