May 25, 2023
GOP Demands for New Medicaid Rules ‘Do Nothing’ for the Debt, Progressives Say
(Bloomberg) -- Progressive Democrats are demanding President Joe Biden stand firm against GOP proposals to add new work requirements to the eligibility criteria for Medicaid and other social welfare programs as the negotiators wrangle a deal to avoid a catastrophic default.
House Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal said Thursday that progressives have made their position clear to the White House, calling work requirements “unacceptable.”
“Work requirements do not work,” she told reporters. “They do nothing to deal with the debt or the deficit, so to even put them on the table in this negotiation when you say the negotiations about debt and deficit is ridiculous.”
Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries has called the suggestion a “nonstarter.”
Progressive lawmakers have expressed worry that Biden will cede too much in the debt limit talks, with some calling for the borrowing cap to be abolished entirely or for the president or pursue an untested strategy: using the 14th amendment to override Congress. Nearly a dozen senators, including Vermont’s Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts’ Elizabeth Warren, have echoed similar concerns.
The Republicans’ proposal would change criteria to qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a federal food assistance program, and Medicaid, the public health care option aimed at low-income Americans as well as cash welfare.
It would add work requirement to Medicaid for the first time and raise the age maximum of SNAP requirements to 55. A source familiar with negotiations said Republicans offered a provision to reduce waivers states use to exempt recipients for SNAP. Lawmakers and aides have said the waiver changes are the most likely to be in the deal.
Both sides have dug in on their positions, according to a person familiar with discussions, as urgency mounts for negotiators to strike a bipartisan deal to raise the federal borrowing cap. Fitch Ratings warned Wednesday that the nation’s AAA rating was under threat from a political standoff that’s preventing a deal.
Read more: McCarthy Says Issues Remain in Debt Talks, All Won’t Be Happy
Support from left-leaning Democrats will be important to Biden’s 2024 reelection bid and could also be necessary to secure passage of any deal that’s struck in the coming days.
Biden last week appeared open to some new work requirements, telling a reporter that it “depends what they are.” He later expounded to say he opposes restrictions that would “impact on medical health needs” or “go much beyond” the existing requirements in place.
The White House has fought against additional work requirements in discussions, according to a White House official. A person familiar with discussions said Republicans introduced a new proposal during the talks that would restrict states’ ability to seek waivers for individuals applying for SNAP benefits in areas where jobs are scarce.
The House-passed debt limit bill would require Medicaid recipients to work, study or volunteer at least 80 hours a month, with exclusions for applicants with children, students, and those younger than 19 or older than 55.
More than 10 million would be at risk of losing coverage under that plan, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The Department of Health and Human Services put that number as high as 21 million Americans, should the requirements be implemented.
Compared to Medicare, the health benefits program for the elderly, Medicaid beneficiaries skew toward people of color, according to Jonathan Oberlander, a health policy professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
The House-passed GOP legislation also would extend through age 55, from 49, a requirement that able-bodied adults document, at minimum, a 20-hour work week to qualify for food assistance. About 275,000 people would lose benefits each month under such requirements, the Congressional Budget Office estimates, saving the government $11 billion over the next decade.
--With assistance from Erik Wasson.
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