Senate

Manchin fires warning shot on plan to expand Medicare

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is firing a warning shot at progressives' hopes of using a sweeping social spending bill to expand Medicare, arguing Democrats should first focus on shoring up the program.  

Manchin, leaving the Capitol after a vote on Thursday, was asked about expanding Medicare to cover hearing, vision and dental, something included in House Democrats' $3.5 trillion plan and being championed in the Senate by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). 

"I'll say this about Medicare: We need to stabilize it. By 2026, you understand the trust fund is going to be insolvent. ... I want to make sure we are stabilizing what we have before we start going down this expansion role," Manchin said. 

Senate Democrats haven't unveiled their version of the spending bill amid high-profile haggling over not only how big to go but disagreements on key provisions including clean energy, how to pay for the bill and how to address competing health care wishes. 

Manchin told The Washington Post earlier this year that he opposed lowering the eligibility age for Medicare. 

Democratic senators have been publicly and privately urging Manchin to detail what he would support, and what he opposes, as part of the spending plan. President Biden also urged moderates during a White House meeting to come up with a top-line figure that they could get behind.  

In a 50-50 Senate, Democrats can't afford to lose Manchin's vote, but progressives, whom they also can't lose, are bullish about passing an expansive bill despite the party's tight margins in both the House and Senate. 

Manchin isn't the only moderate Democrat who has argued the party has more urgent priorities than expanding Medicare to cover vision, hearing and dental. 

Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), the chair of the moderate New Democrat Coalition, told The Washington Post earlier this month that their focus was on shoring up the Affordable Care Act before expanding coverage. 

"We want to provide coverage for people who have none, and that has to be the top priority versus expanding coverage for folks who already have it," she said.  

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