Manchin: Biden told moderates to pitch price tag for reconciliation bill

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said President Biden urged a group of moderate lawmakers to come up with a top-line number they could support for Democrats’ sweeping reconciliation bill.

Manchin, a key vote in the Senate, was part of a group of House and Senate moderates who met with Biden on Wednesday afternoon as Democrats try to figure out a way to bridge their divides on the $3.5 trillion package. 

“He just basically said find a number you’re comfortable with,” Manchin said, adding that Biden’s message was to “please just work on it. Give me a number.”

Manchin told reporters that he didn’t give Biden a number he could get behind and that Biden didn’t give him a hard deadline for when moderates needed to turn over that number.

“The quicker the better, but I’m not sure if they’re going to get there,” Manchin told reporters, adding that they could get a reconciliation bill “eventually.” 

“I think a good reconciliation bill could be done whenever,” he said.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who also attended the meeting with Biden, said moderates and progressives were going to try to work out a framework, potentially by as soon as next week. 

“I think it would be great to have a framework on Monday, and I think the president would agree with that,” Tester said. 

House and Senate Democrats approved a budget resolution earlier this year that allows them to pass a bill of up to $3.5 trillion without GOP support in the Senate. 

But that price tag has run into hurdles from moderates, including Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who have said they can’t support a bill of that size.

But progressives are loath to go lower.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told reporters after the meeting that “the top line has come down. It started at $6 trillion.”

The dual meetings come after days of high-profile squabbling among Democrats over the path forward. 

The $3.5 trillion bill is part of Biden’s two-part spending strategy. The other piece is a roughly $1 trillion infrastructure bill that already passed the Senate and that the House could vote on next week. 

House progressives are threatening to sink the bill unless it moves alongside the sweeping reconciliation legislation, which is expected to include top priorities such as combating climate change and expanding Medicare.

But the reconciliation bill won’t be ready to go by Monday, the deadline that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) previously agreed to with House moderates for giving the infrastructure bill a vote. 

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who attended the meeting with other progressives, said they raised to Biden that they viewed the Sept. 27 timeline as “arbitrary” and that Biden committed to discussing it with leadership. 

“The president is going to have conversations with the Speaker and the Senate majority leader, and they’re going to talk about what’s the full range of possibilities,” Wyden said. 

Manchin, speaking to reporters, warned progressives against holding the Senate-passed infrastructure bill “hostage.” Manchin was a part of the Senate bipartisan group that negotiated the bill in August. 

“It’s still a shame, it truly is a shame, that they’re using that as a hostage toward this,” Manchin said.

“To hold up a bill that every part of this country needs doesn’t make any sense at all,” Manchin said, adding that Biden “would love to see that bill to move forward.”

Tags Bernie Sanders Joe Biden Joe Manchin Jon Tester Kyrsten Sinema Nancy Pelosi Ron Wyden
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