Manchin warns Democrats: Hit ‘pause’ on Biden’s $3.5T plan

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) arrives to the Capitol for a vote to end debate regarding the bipartisan infrastructure bill on Sunday, August 8, 2021.
Greg Nash

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said Democrats should hit “pause” on President Biden’s $3.5 trillion spending package, firing a significant warning shot at his party’s top legislative priority.

Manchin, during remarks this week at a West Virginia Chamber of Commerce event pointed to concerns about “runaway inflation,” the delta variant of the coronavirus and a botched withdrawal in Afghanistan to float slowing down what is the centerpiece of Biden’s economic agenda. 

“If the country is facing what we’re facing now. … I would ask my colleagues and all of the Senate to hit the pause button on the $3.5 [trillion],” Manchin said at the event on Wednesday. “Let’s sit back. Let’s see what happens. We have so much on our plate. We really have an awful lot. I think that would be the prudent, wise thing to do.” 

“I know they’re going to go nuts right now … because what I said is going to all my caucus in Washington,” Manchin added, referring to his Democratic colleagues. “But I’m thinking of it from the standpoint of where we are as a nation today.” 

Manchin’s remarks come as Democrats are negotiating and drafting the $3.5 trillion bill, which is expected to include some of the party’s biggest priorities including expanding Medicare, combating climate change and immigration reform. And if he sticks by his push for a go-slow approach it could mark a significant stumbling block to Democratic leadership’s timeline for advancing the Democratic-only bill. 

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has given Senate committees until Sept. 15 to finalize their parts of the package so that they could start socializing the bill with the broader 50-member Democratic caucus. 

But to get the bill through the Senate, Schumer will need Manchin’s vote, giving him enormous influence to shape the details and the timing of the reconciliation package. 

Manchin, speaking at the Chamber of Commerce event, argued that there wasn’t a reason to rush the Democratic-only spending plan saying that “it’s not anything we need immediately.”  

“Hit the pause button as Americans. Hit the pause button,” Manchin said. 

Manchin doubled down on his remarks, which were made Wednesday, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Thursday, warning he can’t support a $3.5 trillion plan. 

“Instead of rushing to spend trillions on new government programs and additional stimulus funding, Congress should hit a strategic pause on the budget-reconciliation legislation. A pause is warranted because it will provide more clarity on the trajectory of the pandemic, and it will allow us to determine whether inflation is transitory or not,” Manchin wrote in the Wall Street Journal op-ed.

“I, for one, won’t support a $3.5 trillion bill, or anywhere near that level of additional spending, without greater clarity about why Congress chooses to ignore the serious effects inflation and debt have on existing government programs,” Manchin added.  

Manchin previously warned that he had “serious concerns” about a $3.5 trillion package in a statement released hours after the Senate passed the roughly $1 trillion bill last month that he and a bipartisan group of senators helped negotiate. 

He also disclosed during the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce event that he privately told Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) last month during the Senate’s debate on the bipartisan bill that he would not support a separate $3.5 trillion Democrat-only package.

“He looked at me and said, ‘you going to vote for the three-and-a-half trillion?’ I said, ‘hell no Bernie I’m not voting for three-and-a-half trillion.’ He says … ‘well at least you’re honest with me,'” Manchin said. 

Manchin added that he was willing to work with Sanders but he wasn’t going to agree to an “arbitrary number” and that a “pause” was “the best way to go.” 

Manchin didn’t specify in the Wall Street Journal op-ed or during the West Virginia event how long he thinks the pause should be. But his stance sparked immediate high-profile fury from progressives. 

“Manchin has weekly huddles w/ Exxon & is one of many senators who gives lobbyists their pen to write so-called ‘bipartisan’ fossil fuel bills. It’s killing people. Our people. At least 12 last night. Sick of this ‘bipartisan’ corruption that masquerades as clear-eyed moderation,” tweeted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). 

House Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) also rejected the idea of a pause, tweeting: “Absolutely not.” 

And Ellen Sciales, communications director for the progressive climate change group, Sunrise Movement, offered an equally concise reaction to Manchin: “Abolish the Senate.” 

Democrats are pursuing Biden’s spending plan along two paths: a roughly $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed the Senate last month and a sweeping $3.5 trillion spending package that they want to pass this fall and includes some of Democrats’ biggest agenda items. 

House Democrats have pointed to Sept. 27 as a target deadline for when they will vote on the Senate bill, but progressives are warning that they won’t support it unless it moves with the $3.5 trillion package. Both House and Senate Democrats passed a budget last month that greenlights passing the larger bill without GOP support in the Senate. 

But they need total unity from the 50-member Senate Democratic caucus in order to pass the larger package. 

In addition to Manchin, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) has warned that she can’t support a $3.5 trillion package. 

“Proceedings in the U.S. House will have no impact on Kyrsten’s views about what is best for our country – including the fact that she will not support a budget reconciliation bill that costs $3.5 trillion,” John LaBombard, a spokesman for Sinema, said late last month. 

—Updated at 4:38 p.m.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Bernie Sanders Chuck Schumer Joe Biden Joe Manchin Kyrsten Sinema Pramila Jayapal

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