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Biden Says Debt Deal 'Very Close'      05/27 08:07

   Work 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 a deal is "very close."

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Work 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 a deal is "very close."

   Biden's optimism, in comments to reporters as he left the White House on 
Friday evening, came as the deadline for a potentially catastrophic default was 
pushed back to June 5 and seemed likely to drag negotiations between the White 
House and Republicans over raising the debt ceiling into another frustrating 

   House negotiators departed the Capitol after 2 a.m. Saturday without a deal. 
They were expected to return hours later in hopes of reaching agreement with 
the White House over the holiday weekend.

   Both sides have suggested one of the main holdups is a GOP effort to expand 
existing work requirements for recipients of food stamps and other federal aid 
programs, a longtime Republican goal that Democrats have strenuously opposed.

   Even as they came closer to a framework on spending, each side seemed dug in 
on the work requirements. White House spokesman Andrew Bates called the GOP 
proposals "cruel and senseless" and said Biden and Democrats would stand 
against them.

   Louisiana Rep. Garret Graves, one of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's 
negotiators, was blunt when asked if Republicans might relent on the issue: 
"Hell no, not a chance."

   The later " X-date, " laid out in a letter from Treasury Secretary Janet 
Yellen, set the risk of a devastating default four days beyond an earlier 
estimate. Still, Americans and the world uneasily watched the negotiating 
brinkmanship that could throw the U.S. economy into chaos and sap world 
confidence in the nation's leadership.

   Yet Biden was upbeat as he departed for Camp David: "It's very close, and 
I'm optimistic."

   Failure to lift the borrowing limit, now $31 trillion, to pay the nation's 
incurred bills, would send shockwaves through the U.S. and global economy. In a 
blunt warning, Yellen said failure to act by the new date would "cause severe 
hardship to American families, harm our global leadership position and raise 
questions about our ability to defend our national security interests."

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

   Biden and McCarthy, R-Calif., have seemed to be narrowing on a two-year 
budget-slashing deal that would also extend the debt limit into 2025 past the 
next presidential election. The contours of the deal have been taking shape to 
cut spending for 2024 and impose a 1% cap on spending growth for 2025.

   But talks over the proposed work requirements for recipients of Medicaid, 
food stamps and other aid programs seemed at a standstill Friday afternoon.

   Biden has said the work requirements for Medicaid would be a nonstarter. But 
he initially seemed potentially open to negotiating minor changes on 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 for existing standards that require able-bodied adults who do not 
live with dependents to work or attend training programs. While current law 
applies those standards to recipients under the age of 50, the Republican plan 
would raise the age to include adults 55 and under. It would also decrease the 
number of exemptions that states can grant to some recipients subject to those 

   Biden's position on the SNAP work requirements appeared to have hardened by 
Friday, when spokesman Bates said House Republicans are threatening to trigger 
an unprecedented recession "unless they can take food out of the mouths of 
hungry Americans."

   Any deal would need to be a political compromise, with support from both 
Democrats and Republicans to pass the divided Congress. Many of the hard-right 
Trump-aligned Republicans in Congress have long been skeptical of Treasury's 
projections, and they are pressing McCarthy to hold out.

   House Republicans have now pushed the issue to the brink, displaying risky 
political bravado in leaving town for the Memorial Day holiday. Lawmakers are 
not expected to return to work before Tuesday, at the earliest, and McCarthy 
has promised lawmakers he will abide by the rule to post any bill for 72 hours 
before voting.

   Watchful House Democrats are also pressing Biden to reject any new work 
requirements. The top three House Democratic leaders led by Rep. Hakeem 
Jeffries of New York spoke late Thursday with the White House.

   The Democratic-held Senate has stayed out of the negotiations, leaving the 
talks to Biden and McCarthy. But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New 
York has pledged to move quickly to send a compromise package to Biden's desk.

   Weeks of negotiations between Republicans and the White House have failed to 
produce a deal in part because the Biden administration resisted for months on 
negotiating with McCarthy over the debt limit, arguing that the country's full 
faith and credit should not be used as leverage to extract other partisan 

   But House Republicans united behind a plan to cut spending, narrowly passing 
sweeping legislation in late April that would raise the debt ceiling in 
exchange for the spending reductions.

   "We have to spend less than we spent last year. That is the starting point," 
McCarthy has insisted.

   One idea is to set the topline budget numbers but then add a "snap-back" 
provision to enforce cuts if Congress is unable during its annual 
appropriations process to meet the new goals.

   Lawmakers are all but certain to claw back some $30 billion in unspent 
COVID-19 funds now that the pandemic emergency has officially been lifted.

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