May 16, 2023

ICYMI: On Senate Floor, Senator Warren Delivers Speech on Republicans’ Reckless Debt Ceiling Proposal and Unworkable Red Tape

“Congressional Republicans are ready to take our economy off a cliff to fulfill their decades-long dream of erasing America’s safety net”

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) delivered a speech on the Senate Floor blasting Republicans’ proposals that would hold the U.S. economy hostage and weaponize red tape to strip away health care and other critical assistance from millions of families, while actually throwing nearly 800,000 Americans out of work next year.

The full text of her remarks is available below.

Remarks as Prepared by Senator Elizabeth Warren
May 15, 2023

Kevin McCarthy and House Republicans are holding America’s economy hostage. Even worse, the Republicans are holding America’s good name around the world and America’s promise that we pay our debts hostage.

Instead of passing an increase in the debt ceiling, the Republicans have put forward a set of incredibly damaging proposals that would hurt families across the country – proposals that are so unpopular that the only way the Republicans could possibly pass these proposals is to threaten to derail the entire economy if they don’t get their way.

Let’s be clear: Kevin McCarthy is the only one who won't take default off the table. Joe Biden has said no default. Chuck Schumer has said no default. Hakeem Jeffries has said no default. Even Mitch McConnell has said no default.

Every aspect of the House Republican proposal is deeply harmful, but today I’m here to talk about three of the most wrong-headed provisions in their plan: the threat to take away

Republicans’ assault on Medicaid, SNAP, and TANF is no surprise. For years Republicans have worked to undermine these programs, which protect the most vulnerable Americans.

People enrolled in these programs are already walking a tightrope to make ends meet. Now, Republicans want to use an old trick to make it even harder by bogging applicants down with a maze of burdensome and unnecessary paperwork. Republicans call these rules “work requirements.” I call them “unworkable requirements.”  We need to call out these proposals for what they are: a bald effort to kick people off programs they need to survive. The unspoken Republican mantra is: Let them get sick. Let them starve. Let them live on the streets with no help and no hope.

Let’s be clear: the Republican demands are pure politics – not a serious solution to a serious problem. Currently, over 90 percent of people on Medicaid are either employed, in school, living with a disability or debilitating illness, or caring for a baby or a disabled loved one. About three in four people receiving food assistance and 60 to 80 percent of parents receiving income assistance were employed within a year of being in the program. In fact, states that have expanded their Medicaid programs report not only better health outcomes and financial stability for people enrolled in the program, but also higher employment numbers – that’s higher, not lower, rates of employment when people can get a little help. In fact, when the Congressional Budget Office studied the Republican Medicaid proposal, they found that it would have  “no change in employment or hours worked by Medicaid recipients.”

So let’s not kid ourselves – the Republican plan isn’t about work. It is about weaponizing red tape to strip health care and other critical assistance from tens of millions Americans. But you don’t have to take my word for it. In Arkansas, the only state that’s implemented Medicaid work requirements, one in four adults subject to these rules lost their health coverage – despite the fact that 95% of all enrollees were already working or qualified for an exemption. Why? Because the reporting requirements were so burdensome, so difficult to navigate that people – particularly people with disabilities and chronic illnesses – couldn’t run through the maze. That meant more Arkansans were forced to ration medication, delay medical care, and even take on medical debt. And for the cherry on top, there is no evidence that the Arkansas policy increased the rate of employment. Which makes sense – if you’re not healthy, how are you supposed to work?

Republicans have been down this road with SNAP and TANF as well – indeed, this is where they perfected the red tape scam. Now the Republicans are demanding expansions to existing work requirements in SNAP – requirements that we already know kick people out of the program without having any effect whatsoever on employment. And after Republicans implemented strict work requirements on TANF families, program participation dropped by nearly 20% in just three years. Studies show that this red tape increased barriers to employment and led to poorer health outcomes, especially for Black and Brown families. This latest Republican proposal makes the maze of work requirements even more complex.

But there is one group that profits from making the eligibility maze more complex: private contractors that make their profits by kicking recipients out of the programs or otherwise trapping them in a cycle of poverty. Maximus, for example, has earned $1.7 billion in the last decade administering red tape for more than half of states, but has been caught shoving poor Americans into unsustainable, poverty-level jobs, or even totally unpaid work, and then getting paid when these workers cycle repeatedly on and off welfare. 

By kicking millions of Americans off Medicaid, SNAP and TANF, the Republican red tape scam claims to save $120 billion dollars. But states would be forced to pay more to administer all the red tape.

Congressional Republicans are ready to drive our economy off a cliff to fulfill their dream of erasing America’s safety net. Kevin McCarthy is the only one who won't take default off the table. Democrats – including President Biden – have been clear: these dangerous proposals are not going anywhere. We will not create a red tape maze that has been a complete failure every time it has been tried.

It’s long past time for Republicans to stop playing games and raise the debt ceiling.