House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday called on President Joe Biden to agree to tighten welfare program work requirements, raising the stakes on an issue that could trip up a new farm bill.

A brief list of proposals McCarthy laid out in a letter to Biden for cutting federal spending and expanding the economy included this: “Strengthen work requirements for those without depends who can work, as was enacted under President Bill Clinton and which you voted for as a United States senator.”

The letter doesn't directly mention the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, but Republicans have repeatedly criticized SNAP's existing work requirements as too lenient. They were originally enacted as part of the welfare reforms Clinton signed into law in 1996. 

Adults over 49 or with children at home are currently exempt from those rules, but House Republicans have tried to use the last two farm bills to narrow the exemptions, which would slash the cost of SNAP benefits, and are making a similar effort this year.

One proposal, led by Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., would extend the requirements to adults as old as 65 and parents with children over 6The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that more than 10 million adults and children could lose assistance under Johnson's proposal.

Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, David Scott of Georgia, have flatly ruled out considering any cuts to SNAP.

McCarthy’s letter does not explain how the requirements should be tightened.

The letter also calls for reducing nondefense government spending to pre-inflationary levels, reclaiming unspent COVID funds and enacting “policies to grow our economy and keep Americans safe, including measures to lower energy costs, make America energy independent, and secure our border from the flow of deadly fentanyl.”

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The letter expresses frustration that Biden has refused to negotiate spending cuts in exchange for raising the federal debt ceiling.

“House Republicans are united in our view that the best war to reduce the national debt is to Limit Spending, Save Taxpayer Money, and Grow the Economy. I am prepared to sit down to discuss a variety of means to do so that would achieve trillions of dollars in savings and economic growth some of which you even agreed to during the Biden Debt Limit Talks of 2011,” McCarthy writes. He goes on to list the proposals, including tightening work rules.

The White House later issued a response to McCarthy that said in part: "Congress has a constitutional obligation to address the debt limit – as they did three times in the previous administration without conditions. Business leaders and economists have warned that the threat of a default risks the livelihoods of American small businesses, retirees, and working families and would hand a massive win to China — and recent events underscore the need for Congress to address the debt limit as soon as possible.

"It’s time for Republicans to stop playing games, pass a clean debt ceiling bill, and quit threatening our economic recovery."

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