Biden Faces Progressive Backlash Against Any

(Bloomberg) — President Joe Biden faces a fervent campaign from progressive Democrats opposing potential concessions to Republicans to avert a US default, complicating passage of a debt-limit deal and risking enthusiasm for his reelection.

Progressives’ objections grew louder Thursday as Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy signaled the two sides were closing in on a deal. 

“If the bottom line is that the only deal to be had, that McCarthy will sign on to, is one in which ordinary families are savaged and in which the economy is flooded with fossil fuels, that is unacceptable,” said Senator Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat.

Merkley and 10 other Senate Democrats jointly urged Biden on Thursday to bypass Congress and invoke the Constitution’s 14th Amendment to lift the debt limit on his own, dismissing a deal as “impossible” given “Republicans’ unwillingness to consider one penny in new revenue from the wealthy and large corporations.”

Discontent among Democratic lawmakers poses a serious challenge if it builds. Biden will need to muster votes from his own party to pass a deal and perhaps even from some in its progressive wing, given the likelihood many Republicans won’t want a vote in favor of a higher debt ceiling on their voting records. 

Biden’s reelection prospects also hinge on revving up the lackluster enthusiasm for him among Democrats’ core progressive voters that recent polls have shown. 

Progressive lawmakers assailed Republican demands to expand work requirements for anti-poverty programs and make it easier to get permits for energy projects, a concern for climate activists who seek to reduce carbon emissions.

House Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal pointedly raised the stakes for Biden’s reelection, rejecting a comment Biden made over the weekend that he at times backed work requirements for social programs when he served as a senator from 1973 to 2009. That, she said, was incompatible with the expectations he set for progressives.

“We didn’t elect the Joe Biden of 1986 or 1996,” Jayapal, a Washington Democrat, said. “We elected the Joe Biden of 2020.”

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said progressives can be confident Biden will pursue their priorities.

“Look, this is a president that they could be reassured is fighting for clean energy” and “fighting against increasing poverty,” she said.

Biden has said work requirements for Medicaid recipients are off the table, but liberal Democrats say he also should prevent tougher work standards for food stamps, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

“I am not voting for a bill that screws poor people, and this screws poor people,” said Representative Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat who said he’s talking with the White House about his concerns.

Progressives also may have some leverage over farm-state Republicans if food assistance is pared back since the Farm Bill that authorizes US agriculture subsidies traditionally passes Congress through a coalition that includes urban lawmakers who support the food-stamp program. That authorization, usually renewed every five years, expires on Sept. 30.

The coalition “could be blown up by action to cut SNAP,” said Debbie Weinstein, executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs, a group including major labor unions and civil rights groups that advocates for anti-poverty programs. “People who want the Farm Bill can see this dispute could jam up the Farm Bill.”

The 11 Democratic senators, in a letter to Biden released Thursday, also rejected Republican demands for easier energy permits or rolling parts of last year’s Inflation Reduction Act, a pared-down version of Biden’s climate and health care proposals.

Such concessions would allow “fossil fuel companies to unleash a flood of dirty energy projects that will worsen the climate crisis and disproportionately impact frontline communities,” they wrote.

–With assistance from Erik Wasson and Emily Wilkins.

©2023 Bloomberg L.P.

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