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NAACP warns lawmakers not to sabotage themselves with debt limit deal

“The nation, especially Black America, is watching,” wrote NAACP president Derrick Johnson, decrying GOP demands to cut social programs such as Medicaid.


For weeks now, the Biden administration has effectively been engaged in hostage negotiations with House Republicans, who have refused to raise the debt limit (i.e., pay down the nation’s already accrued debt) without the president agreeing to drastic spending cuts. And on Wednesday, the NAACP issued a warning to lawmakers about cuts to social spending programs that many Black people rely on

The open letter from Derrick Johnson, the NAACP’s president and CEO, closed with an unmistakable warning for lawmakers: “The nation, especially Black America, is watching.” 

From the letter: 

Recent media reports have highlighted deeply disturbing proposals floated in negotiations between Congressional leadership and the Biden Administration that would cap federal discretionary spending on critical programs like Medicaid, Pell grants, SNAP, school lunch programs, income supports, and many more, all of which would disproportionately harm Black communities. Other proposals to change eligibility requirements such as adding new work requirements must be resoundingly rejected. These proposals are designed to play on racist stereotypes masquerading as sound policy.

That last line seems like a reference to the Reaganesque rhetoric used by Republicans as they push for cuts, relying on insulting and ill-informed claims implying that people helped by social programs lack a desire to work. The fact that many people who receive such benefits do work apparently means nothing to them, nor does the fact that many experts have said for years that adding work requirements to social programs does little to increase participation in the workforce, as my MSNBC colleague Hayes Brown noted in April

Nonetheless, the White House has seemingly left open the possibility that the president could reach an agreement with House Republicans that includes alterations that would amount to social spending cuts, including to the food stamp program. And Democrats are livid about the prospect

We did not elect Joe Biden of 1986,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Mich., told Politico on Monday, referring to the president’s past support for work requirements when he was in the Senate.

Last week, the NAACP was among several civil rights groups that issued a joint statement urging Biden to refuse to place programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program on the chopping block.

“We know that SNAP and Medicaid reduce hunger and poverty and that they improve health, education, and other important outcomes,” the groups wrote. “SNAP and Medicaid face significant threats this year, and we ask that you do everything you can to protect and strengthen these vital programs in budget negotiations.” 

Biden has spoken on several occasions about how essential Black voters were to his White House victory in 2020.

Biden has spoken on several occasions about how essential Black voters were to his White House victory in 2020. As a candidate, he made many promises, including a vow to push for voting rights measures, police reform, student debt forgiveness and community investment. 

Some of those efforts — including voting rights and police reform — have fallen short. Others, such as student debt forgiveness, have been announced but are being held up in the courts.

Some measures, such as the Inflation Reduction Act and the bipartisan infrastructure bill, have been signed into law and show promise, but the jury is still out as to whether the benefits will trickle down to Black people as advertised. 

But, you’ll note, cuts to social programs were not included in those promises. And the NAACP is far from alone in wanting to make sure the Biden administration doesn’t forget that.