Connecticut Governor

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont

(The Center Square) — Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont is leading a group of Democratic governors in calling on Congress not to cut Medicaid and other safety net programs as part of the negotiations over raising the nation's debt ceiling.

In a letter to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-CA, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, and other legislative leaders, Lamont urged them to "engage" with governors on any proposed cuts to safety net programs as they negotiate over the federal debt ceiling and making fiscal year 2024 appropriations.

"Decisions at the federal level have consequences for the states," Lamont, co-chair of the National Governors Association's Public Health and Disaster Response task force, wrote to congressional leaders. "The entire nation benefits when Congress allows sufficient time for states to review and respond to proposed changes that may ultimately become law."

The letter, which Democratic Vermont Gov. Phil Scott co-signed, said most state legislatures are crafting budgets for the next fiscal year and need to know how much money they will be getting from the federal government for safety-net programs and other federally funded initiatives.

In fiscal year 2022, federal spending accounted for an average of about 38% of state budgets, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers, they noted.

"Thus, states’ ability to make funding decisions and administer essential programs are inextricably tied to the federal budget," they wrote. "It is crucial that state perspectives be included in federal budget decisions."

House Republicans want to add new work requirements to safety net programs and stricter work requirements for food stamps in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.

On Wednesday, McCarthy unveiled a proposal to raise the nation’s debt limit by $1.5 trillion into next year in exchange for imposing a long list of Republican priorities and rolling back federal spending to 2022 levels. The plan would also set a 1% cap on most future federal spending over the next decade.

"If you gave your child a credit card and they kept maxing out the limit, you wouldn’t blindly raise the limit. You’d change their behavior," McCarthy, a California Republican, said in remarks earlier this week. "The same is true with our national debt."

President Joe Biden has criticized the House Republican proposal, arguing limiting government spending programs could hurt the middle class at a time when the lingering pinch of record-high inflation is impacting pocketbooks.

“Folks, that’s the MAGA economic agenda: Spending cuts for working- and middle-class folks," Biden said in remarks during an event in Maryland Wednesday. "It’s not about fiscal discipline. It’s about cutting benefits for folks."

Unless Congress and Biden can agree to raise the limit in the next few weeks, the federal government could be at risk of going into default and not being unable to pay its bills.

But Lamont said any changes to safety-net programs in a debt ceiling proposal should "protect states from known risks – such as an economic downturn and higher costs – that increase demand for safety net programs and sometimes increase per-beneficiary costs."

"Sound fiscal policy – informed by the expertise of the states – is necessary to preserve the governors’ flexibility to protect the welfare of our constituents, manage state budgets, and administer federal-state programs that meet Congress’s goals," he wrote.