Manchin backs budget reconciliation for relief bill but with a warning

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a pivotal centrist swing vote, announced Tuesday he will vote to advance a Democratic budget resolution, while warning that he wants leadership to work with Republicans on a bipartisan COVID-19 relief package.

“I will vote to move forward with the budget process because we must address the urgency of the COVID-19 crisis. But let me be clear — these are words I shared with President Biden — our focus must be on the COVID-19 crisis and Americans who have been most impacted by this pandemic,” Manchin said in a statement released Tuesday afternoon.

Manchin’s remarks signal that even though he will support fellow Democrats on a key procedural vote to set up passing a COVID-19 relief package, he could still block any package that leadership tries to pass solely with Democratic votes under the budget reconciliation process.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the Senate will start on Tuesday to lay the groundwork for passing a coronavirus relief bill with only a simple majority, an approach in which Manchin’s support is crucial for Democrats.

The Senate is expected to take an initial procedural vote Tuesday afternoon to proceed to a budget resolution. Once passed, the bill will allow Democrats to avoid a 60-vote filibuster for a separate coronavirus relief bill.

Manchin on Tuesday also indicated what he does, and doesn’t, want to see in a final relief measure.

“I will only support proposals that will get us through and end the pain of this pandemic. For the sake of the country, we must work together with laser focus to defeat the COVID-19 crisis, support our neighbors and communities who continue to suffer and get back to a more normal life as quickly as possible,” he said.

Manchin told reporters that he would not support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, a component of Biden’s proposal, saying he would instead prefer “having something that’s responsible and reasonable.”

He put that dollar amount at $11 an hour, adjusted for inflation, in West Virginia.

Manchin told reporters before issuing Tuesday’s statement that he wants Republicans to have input on the COVID-19 relief bill. Ten GOP senators met with President Biden at the White House on Monday evening to discuss their $618 billion counterproposal to the president’s Biden’s $1.9 trillion plan.

Manchin has not indicated which price tag he is leaning toward.

“I can’t tell you where the right numbers are, but when you have a good bipartisan input you can discuss and debate, that’s when you get a good program. And we’re committed and we are committed and everyone has committed that this reconciliation will be done in an open, bipartisan way,” he told reporters.

Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), a key member of the 10 Republicans who met with Biden, also raised concerns with the minimum wage provision in Biden’s proposal, saying it should be handled separately from a COVID-19 relief bill.

“It is not relevant to treatment or the economic recovery or getting vaccines out,” she said Tuesday. “In fact, it would be very difficult for the hospitality industry, which has been particularly harmed.”

Manchin has been under pressure from top Democrats to support Biden’s proposal. Vice President Harris last week gave an interview to a West Virginia television station in which she highlighted how it would help people in the state who are struggling to feed their families during the pandemic.

Manchin expressed irritation that no one from Harris’s team or the White House gave him a heads-up about the interview.

The White House later reached out to Manchin to mend fences. The West Virginia senator said Tuesday that “no apologies” were needed.

Updated at 1:59 p.m.

Tags budget reconciliation Charles Schumer Coronavirus COVID-19 relief Joe Manchin Pandemic Susan Collins West Virginia

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