Senate

Manchin signals he'll be team player on spending deal

Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), a crucial centrist vote in the Democratic caucus, is signaling to colleagues that he won't derail a $3.5 trillion budget resolution that contains many of President Biden's legislative priorities. 

Senate Democrats say Manchin has indicated he will not stand in the way of the measure moving forward and will be generally supportive as long as he's kept in the loop on his top concerns: how to pay for the bill and a clean energy provision.

Manchin told colleagues Wednesday where he stood at a caucus luncheon attended by Biden, where Democrats discussed their plans for passing two major infrastructure bills. The West Virginia senator said he waited until Biden left the room to explain his position to fellow Democrats. 

"I did not speak while Joe Biden was there out of respect. He did a great job and everything," he said, explaining that after Biden left he wanted colleagues to have a clear understanding of his own views.

"Afterward I wanted to make sure they knew where I was coming from. I'm concerned about inflation, I'm concerned about a competitive tax code, I'm concerned about environmental standards that basically leave people behind in all these things," Manchin told The Hill. 

Manchin confirmed that he let colleagues know that he's not interested in gumming up the works by blocking the budget resolution, a move that would stall efforts to start piecing together a bill that is expected to cost $3.5 trillion and pass with a simple majority vote later this year.

"I want it to proceed," Manchin said, adding that he wants to be part of the negotiations on a reconciliation bill that would be set up by successful passage of a joint budget resolution.

"I want to sit down and be part of that, sure, and figure if we run into a roadblock, we'll run into one later. But you don't start out that way."

The budget resolution that Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) plans to bring to the floor later this summer would broadly set the outlines of a reconciliation bill containing elements of Biden's infrastructure agenda that don't have Republican support.

That reconciliation vehicle can only move if the Senate and House approve a joint budget resolution. The real negotiations over that package will take place over the August recess and in September.

Schumer has set a deadline of Wednesday for Senate Democrats to unify behind the $3.5 trillion deal that he and Democratic members of the Senate Budget Committee unveiled this week. The plan is to fully offset the cost of the package with yet-to-be-named tax increases and other revenue raisers.

Democratic senators fully expect Manchin to be with them on the vote to advance the budget resolution. 

"I would be amazed if he didn't vote 'yes,'" said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). "That's just because I've known Joe for 20 years. ... I would be amazed if he did not vote to proceed."

Some Democrats took reassurance from Manchin's comments at Wednesday's lunch after the president left. 

Manchin raised concerns about the impact of inflation and proposals by the White House to steer the country away from fossil fuels that are likely to be included in the reconciliation package. 

But colleagues interpreted his remarks as expressing interest in being directly involved in the negotiations, especially on issues that are his top priorities.

"He raised some concerns," said a Democratic senator who attended the lunch. "What I took away from it was simply that coming from a state that has a big history of fossil fuels, he wanted to be in the conversation about how we proceed because of general concerns about the transition" to cleaner energy sources.

"He was essentially saying, 'I'm not objecting to how we're moving forward, I want to be in the loop on things that I care about,'" the source added.

Other Democrats in the room gathered from Manchin's remarks that he wants to work with his colleagues on finding a way to move big elements of Biden's agenda through the budget reconciliation process.

"I heard him say, 'I want to work with you on those things.' I would interpret that to mean we're going to get there," said a second Democratic senator referring to the goal of passing the budget resolution before the August recess.

Manchin has called on Senate Democrats to fully cover the cost of the reconciliation package, something he repeated on Tuesday. 

"I think everything should be paid for. We've put enough free money out," he said.

Later that same day, Schumer said Senate Democrats were seriously considering options to pay for the entire cost of the reconciliation package.

When Schumer, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and moderate Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) announced a budget deal Tuesday evening, Warner proudly noted that the agreement called for the reconciliation bill to be fully offset. 

Senators say this and other concessions show how much consideration they give to Manchin's views.

"Let me tell you, Joe is a friend of mine and he has staked out his position with us very clearly. I think he would be the first to say that he's been treated by his colleagues with real respect," said Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), adding that Democratic leaders accepted the changes that Manchin proposed to a sweeping election reform bill that Democrats brought to the floor last month.

"We listened to him. When he suggested changes ... those changes were made. We're doing everything we can to be respectful of his position and other members' positions. I want it to continue that way," Durbin added.

Asked if Manchin signaled his cooperation on the budget resolution, Durbin said: "I think there is an indication, but I wouldn't go too far. I want Joe to speak for himself."

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), another key centrist, said this week he would also vote to allow the budget resolution to proceed during Wednesday's vote. 

Tester explained that he wants to let the discussion move forward so he can see how the reconciliation bill takes shape.

"My thinking is we need to address some very important issues in this country and I think there's a real possibility that that $3.5 trillion can address some of those issues," he said. "I want to have a debate on it. I want to have the opportunity to discuss it, see what's in it before I say 'no' or 'yes.'"

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