Many key progressives and even moderate Democrats had very publicly pushed the White House to reject any GOP demands to expand work requirements during the negotiations. Few, however, have weighed in on the deal’s language extending work requirements for a certain age group of people receiving food through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — which anti-hunger groups say would increase poverty and hunger in the country.
“I’m just disappointed that it’s in there,” McGovern said in a brief interview. “We’re gonna have to figure out how to proceed here.”
McGovern also took issue with the idea that pushing several hundred thousand low-income Americans ages 50 to 54 off food aid, as the new work requirements are forecast to do, can be balanced out by providing the food aid to new groups of people. It’s also unclear if that estimate, on paper, will actually bear out in reality given the immense logistical challenge of signing up several hundred thousand new SNAP recipients, many unhoused and without documentation.
“This is a food benefit. So moving the deck chairs around and saying, you get food, but you don’t — that’s not a very convincing argument to me,” McGovern said.
McGovern declined to say if he would help Republicans get the bill out of the Rules Committee, if they end up short on votes as some GOP lawmakers are threatening to tank the bill. But he added he thought Republicans likely had the votes to advance the legislation to the floor.
“It’s a Republican bill. So they have the obligation to report it out,” he said. McGovern said at the beginning of the Rules Committee meeting Tuesday afternoon that he “didn’t come to Washington to hurt people,” referring to the agreement’s changes to SNAP and other key aid programs.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, expressed similar sentiments Sunday morning, describing the expansion of SNAP work requirements in the debt deal as an “absolutely terrible policy.”
The president, however, dismissed those objections Sunday afternoon.
Biden told reporters that Hill Democrats’ concerns that the new SNAP measure would lead some low-income Americans to go hungry, was a “ridiculous assertion,” shocking some in his own party.
A spokesperson for Jayapal declined to comment on Biden’s remarks.
Before Biden struck the final agreement with McCarthy late Saturday, Jayapal told POLITICO that any added work requirements on aid programs would increase hunger among poor Americans and the move was “a nonstarter” with her group, which includes about 100 House Democrats.
But key House moderate Democrats and even members of Democratic leadership are publicly warming to or getting behind the deal, arguing it’s better than defaulting while publicly noting the changes will hurt poor Americans, despite the president’s rejection of such concerns.
“It sounds like a simple, straightforward policy change,” Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said in an interview. But he noted it needed to be measured against the “reality of people’s lives,” especially those “who are struggling to get by economically, some even to survive.”
“I think it’s an accommodation I wish we didn’t have to make. But I don’t want to rule out voting for the bill because of it,” Durbin said.
Congressional Black Caucus Chair Steven Horsford (D-Nev.) also didn’t rule out voting for the debt ceiling legislation, even as he railed against the SNAP provision Tuesday.
“I don’t like it because it hurts older workers, predominantly women, more than likely women of color,” Horsford said in an interview, though he added that he was glad to see new exemptions for homeless people and other vulnerable groups. Asked if it was enough for him to vote against the bill, he replied: “I don’t make red lines.”
As for Biden’s dismissal of Hill Democrats who argue the deal could lead to more hungry people in the country, Horsford said, “I have talked to the White House and they understand the concerns that we have for any person — older, younger, child, senior, you know mom with children, or others — who need nutrition in order to live healthy lives.”
Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.), the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee charged with overseeing SNAP, initially described the GOP demands as “un-Christian.” Scott has yet to issue a public statement on the agreement struck this past weekend. A spokesperson for the Georgia Democrat didn’t respond to questions about the nutrition measures in the agreement.
Even the White House maintains that expanding work requirements for food aid “tie the most vulnerable up in bureaucratic paperwork” and “have shown no benefit for bringing more people into the workforce.”
Republicans, however, have lauded new work requirements for both SNAP and the emergency cash aid program known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which sunset in 2030, arguing they will help grow the workforce. Even with those measures in the debt deal, more than a dozen conservative members of the GOP caucus have made clear they will not vote for the legislation to raise the debt ceiling, forcing the House Republican majority to rely on Democratic votes to pass the bill.