WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Wednesday signaled a willingness to accept changes to welfare work requirements to win Republican approval of a debt limit increase.
“I voted years ago for the work requirements that exist. But it’s possible that there could be a few others,” he said during a brief, hastily arranged news conference just before his departure to Japan for the G-7 summit.
He added, though, that he would reject “any work requirement that’s going to impact on medical health needs of people,” and said the changes could not be “anything of any consequence.”
Biden has stated for months that he would not negotiate with Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and his caucus over the debt ceiling, and he made the point Wednesday that he is still not negotiating over the debt ceiling, even as he implicitly negotiated over the debt ceiling.
“To be clear, this negotiation is about the outlines of what the budget will look like, not about whether or not we are going to, in fact, pay our debts,” he said.
President Joe Biden arrives to speak about the debt limit talks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Wednesday.
Biden again warned of the catastrophic consequences for the economy should the country actually default on the national debt, and said it was the reason he was shortening his trip abroad, forgoing planned stops in Papua New Guinea and Australia.
“What I have done, in anticipation that we won’t get it all done till I get back, is I’ve cut my trip short in order to be in the final negotiation and to sign the deal,” he said.
At his own news conference a little later, McCarthy and a group of House and Senate Republicans surrounding him broke into laughter when told of Biden’s remarks, with one unidentified lawmaker saying, “Loser!”
“Anything that has consequence? This is a senator who voted for work requirements,” McCarthy said.
The United States will run out of statutory borrowing authority to pay its obligations as early as June 1, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned early this month, meaning the nation could default on interest payments on outstanding bonds. Even the risk of this occurring is likely to result in the downgrade of U.S. creditworthiness, which would lead to higher borrowing costs in the future.
House Republicans, as they did in 2011 under the last Democratic president, Barack Obama, are making their support for legislation to increase the debt limit contingent on cutting spending and other goals.
They made no such demands during the presidency of Republican Donald Trump, and in fact supported increasing the debt limit three times during his four years in office without any attempts to cut spending — including twice in years when they controlled both chambers of Congress. During Trump’s single term, Republicans ushered in the era of trillion-dollar annual deficits, thanks to a massive tax cut in 2017 combined with an end to Obama-era spending caps in 2018.
Trump, who is running for the White House again despite having attempted a coup to remain in power, is now encouraging Republicans to default on the debt if they do not get the spending cuts they want.
Jonathan Nicholson contributed reporting.