President Biden signaled on Wednesday that he would be willing to work with House Republicans on a compromise when it comes to work requirements for government assistance programs but cautioned that he wouldn’t support a major overhaul on such mandates.
Biden expressed optimism that the U.S. would not default on its debts as he prepared to leave the White House for a trip to Japan, saying he and congressional leaders were working on the contours of a budget deal that would be acceptable to all sides.
One of the key sticking points in those talks has been calls from Republicans for tougher work requirements for government assistance programs. But, Biden indicated he would not support a significant change.
“I’m not going to accept any work requirements that’s going to impact on the medical health needs of people; I’m not going to accept any work requirements that go much beyond what is already — I voted years ago for the work requirements that exist. But, it’s possible there could be a few other, but not anything of any consequence,” Biden said.
Earlier Wednesday, the president was asked if he had any work requirement red lines and replied, “Yes, it depends on what they are.”
McCarthy responded to Biden’s remarks by indicating he wants to see more than just slight changes to work requirements, reiterating what he said Tuesday that such a compromise is a “red line.”
The White House has insisted for months that it is Congress’s responsibility to raise the debt ceiling without conditions. But in recent days, Biden has signaled there are spending areas he is willing to negotiate, including unspent COVID-19 relief funds and suggesting additional work requirements for certain government assistance programs.
The president’s remarks come the day after he met with Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and other top congressional leaders on the debt limit. The president on Wednesday called the meeting “productive,” and “civil and respectful.”
“I’m confident that we’ll get the agreement on the budget and that America will not default,” he said.
“To be clear, this negotiation is about the outlines of what the budget will look like, not whether or not we will in fact pay our debts,” he added, noting that every leader has said they won’t default.
Biden is set to leave later Wednesday for a four day trip to Japan for the Group of Seven (G-7) summit and will return Sunday. The White House announced Tuesday that he would cut his trip short to come back to Washington to resume the talks.
Biden said he would hold a press conference Sunday to address the debt limit talks.
McCarthy left the meeting Tuesday and said the structure of negotiations had improved and that he held out hope a deal would be possible in the coming days. He outlined that Biden had “changed the scope” of who is involved in talks, appointing White House officials to work directly with members of the Speaker’s team as they try to reach an agreement.
Biden said Wednesday that group met last night and will meet again Wednesday. He added that he will be in “constant contact” with his team and in touch with the Speaker while at the G-7.
Officials have less than two weeks to reach a deal in order to avoid default before June 1, which is the date the Treasury Department has warned it would run out of mechanisms to fund the country’s debts.
The Speaker and other leaders left the talks appearing more optimistic than a week ago. Since then, staff members have huddled for negotiations, which both sides have characterized as positive. There are still areas of disagreement on talks, with House Republicans pushing for significant spending cuts and repeatedly pointing to a bill that passed with no Democratic votes late last month. The White House has said it would veto that bill and warned that the GOP proposals would lead to steep, across-the-board cuts to government services.
Mychael Schnell contributed.
Updated 12:40 p.m.