WASHINGTON – Sen. Joe Manchin on Monday threw cold water on the optimism building among Capitol Hill Democrats that they were close to a deal on President Joe Biden’s $1.85 trillion budget proposal that aims to fight climate change, offer free preschool to millions of children and expand hearing benefits for seniors.
The Democratic senator from West Virginia, who has been at the heart of the negotiations over what’s known as the “reconciliation bill,” raised concerns about the amount of debt the bill would generate while existing social programs are at risk.
“How can I in good conscience vote for a bill that proposes massive expansion of social programs when vital programs like Social Security and Medicare face insolvency and benefits can start being reduced as soon as 2026 and Medicare and 2033 in Social Security?” said Manchin, who took the unusual step of calling the Monday news conference to vent his frustration. “Does that make sense?”
He also took issue with the framework the White House released last week on the social and climate bill, saying it included “shell games, budget gimmicks that make the real cost of the so-called $1.75 trillion bill estimated to be almost twice that amount. If the full time is run out, if you extended it permanently. And not we haven’t even spoken about. This is a recipe for economic crisis.”
Administration officials said the package won’t add to the debt because provisions in the package to impose a 15% corporate minimum tax rate, beef up IRS enforcement and enact other revenue-raising measures would generate $1.995 trillion – more than enough to cover the cost of the bill. Skeptics, including the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, agree with Manchin that the revenue projections rely on too many “gimmicks.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki answered Manchin’s criticism with confidence the president would get the senator’s support.
“Senator Manchin says he is prepared to support a Build Back Better plan that combats inflation, is fiscally responsible, and will create jobs. The plan the House is finalizing meets those tests — it is fully paid for, will reduce the deficit, and brings down costs for health care, child care, elder care, and housing,” Psaki said in a statement.
Infrastructure bill vote has awaited budget deal
Manchin’s decision to publicly raise hard objections to the bill – pushed by Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., among other Democratic leaders – undercuts the message that lawmakers were closing in on a deal. Such an agreement would clear the way for a House vote on a bipartisan infrastructure bill, which passed the Senate in August.
He urged the House to pass the $1.2 trillion physical infrastructure bill that has been bottlenecked by negotiations over Biden’s larger climate and social programs legislation. House progressives have held up the infrastructure bill – which is aimed at improving the nation’s highways, broadband and airports – until they get a commitment from Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., to support the budget package that contains their priorities.
A visibly irritated Manchin said that was the wrong approach.
“It is time to vote on the (infrastructure) bill. Up or down. And then go home and explain to your constituents the decision you made,” he said, noting he’s “worked in good faith for three months” on the budget bill with Biden and legislators. “And I will continue to do so for the sake of the country. I urge the House to vote and pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Holding this bill hostage is not going to work and getting my support for regular reconciliation.”
In a statement Monday, Pelosi said the “The House, Senate and White House continue to move forward with the Build Back Better Act.”
It would create “millions of jobs, delivering a massive middle-class tax cut and lowering families’ costs, while making the wealthiest few and big corporations pay their fair share,” she wrote.
Aiming at Manchin’s statement, Pelosi said the legislation would “grow the economy without increasing inflation, because it is fully paid for.”
Manchin and Sinema, key moderates in the upper chamber, had been holding out on green-lighting Biden’s latest social and climate spending package, unveiled Thursday. The two had taken issue with the package’s original $3.5 trillion price tag, which forced Biden and progressive Democrats to scale down the bill. Biden needs the support of all 50 Democratic senators – and Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote – to pass the bill.
The West Virginia senator had originally withheld his support due to some far-reaching climate proposals he said would have hurt the fossil fuels industry, which is central to his state’s identity and economy. He also opposes the scope of some social programs, saying they were unaffordable and not targeted enough to needy Americans.
White House officials and Democratic leaders were hopeful the two sides could strike a deal as early as this week. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the Washington State Democrat who chairs the House Progressive Caucus, signaled Monday that the assurances all 50 senators were on board would be enough for progressives to vote on the infrastructure bill before the Senate passed the larger budget bill.
“We now feel like we have what we need. We are taking the president’s word at the fact that he believes he can get 50 votes in the senate,” she said on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports.”
But Manchin suggested he was far from a settlement, saying he cannot back a bill which “expands social programs, and irresponsibly adds to our $29 trillion in national debt that no one seems to really care about or even talk about.”