With a possible first-ever U.S. debt default looming closer by the day, progressive lawmakers and groups on Tuesday implored President Joe Biden to stand firm in the face of what some called "Republican budget sabotage" while stepping up warnings about the harmful impacts that potential spending cuts could have on the most vulnerable Americans.
Biden has unnerved progressives in recent days by signaling an openness to "cutting spending" and including more stringent work requirements for recipients of federal safety net programs in order to reach a debt ceiling compromise with Republicans.
"We have made clear publicly and privately that not just work requirements but spending cuts, broad spending cuts, these are off the table," Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) toldHuffPost on Tuesday as the president prepared to meet with congressional leaders.
Echoing Jayapal, Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) said in a statement that "I cannot in good conscience support a debt ceiling proposal that pushes people into poverty."
"We're already addressing SNAP in a bipartisan way in the Farm Bill," Fetterman added, referring to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. "But with default looming, jamming through harmful cuts to that program is reckless. It's time to stop playing games and guarantee the full faith and credit of the United States."
A Congressional Budget Office analysis published Tuesday estimated that Republican plans to extend 2017 tax breaks for the wealthy could add nearly $3.5 trillion to the national deficit.
Claire Guzdar, a spokesperson for the progressive ProsperUS coalition, said in a statement Tuesday that "we urge President Biden to oppose any deal that would hurt the most vulnerable people in our economy."
"If House Republicans were serious about reducing deficits and raising revenue, they would stop shielding the wealthy and big corporations from paying their fair share in taxes," Guzdar added.
With the U.S. potentially just two weeks away from a catastrophic default, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) "is busy elevating the economic threat level by drawing a red line at one of the more unreasonable and harmful MAGA demands," warned Liz Zelnick, director of the economic and corporate power division at the watchdog Accountable.US.
"McCarthy is busy elevating the economic threat level by drawing a red line at one of the more unreasonable and harmful MAGA demands," she continued.
"Apparently the best the MAGA majority can do on any default deal is to make the lives of low-income seniors, single moms, and veterans more difficult while they protect every penny of the costly Trump tax breaks for billionaires and big corporations that never trickled down to anyone else," Zelnick added.
McCarthy (R-Calif.) said that Tuesday's White House meeting was "a little more productive" than previous talks last week, but that the two sides were still "a long way apart."
As part of their debt limit bill, which the House approved on a party-line vote last month, Republicans proposed a new limit on Medicaid benefits for unemployed adults without dependents, as well as expanding existing "work requirements" for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The bill would limit SNAP benefits to unemployed childless adults up to age 55 instead of limiting them only to those younger than 50, as under current law.
Most households that receive SNAP benefits include minors, people with disabilities, and seniors. The Republican proposal only targets able-bodied adults without dependents.
The White House—which on Tuesday tapped Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young and presidential adviser Steve Ricchetti to lead debt ceiling negotiations going forward—called the meeting "productive and direct."
"The president emphasized that while more work remains on a range of difficult issues, he's optimistic that there is a path to a responsible, bipartisan budget agreement if both sides negotiate in good faith and recognize that neither side will get everything it wants," the White House said in a statement.
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Biden and congressional Democrats previously refused to negotiate and demanded a "clean" debt limit increase without conditions. The Senate is not expected to take up the House's bill, and the White House has said Biden would veto it. The Biden administration has warned the Republican plan would force furloughs across federal agencies and, in at least some cases, layoffs of federal workers.
The White House said Tuesday that Biden will still travel to Japan on Wednesday to attend the Group of Seven (G7) summit in Hiroshima. However, the president will curtail what was meant to be a multi-nation trip to Asia and Australia and return to Washington, D.C. on Sunday "to be back for the final negotiations with congressional leaders."
Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) told HuffPost that he believed Biden shouldn't be negotiating with Republicans at all.
"I'm frustrated that we even have to engage in these conversations because it gives credibility to what Republicans are trying to do, which is pretty much hold the global economy hostage to fake as if they are fiscally responsible when they're not," he said.
Referring to McCarthy, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said that she understands that Biden is "in a difficult position with such a man who is willing to inflict so much damage on the nation."
"But we cannot accept cuts that will do real damage to millions of people in this country at the same moment that every billionaire, every billionaire corporation, and every loophole to protect those billionaires and billionaire corporations is carefully protected," she added.
A day after she said that the U.S. government would only be able to pay its bills through the end of the month without a debt limit increase, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned Tuesday that a default would have severe consequences, including a likely recession.
"It is very conceivable that we'd see a number of financial markets break—with worldwide panic triggering margin calls, runs, and fire sales," Yellen said. "Our economy would suddenly find itself in an unprecedented economic and financial storm, and the resulting income shock could lead to a recession that destroys many American jobs and businesses."