Manchin says his spending limit is $1.5 trillion

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) announced Thursday that his top-line spending number for the budget reconciliation package is $1.5 trillion, far below the $3.5 trillion spending goal set by the budget resolution that he and every other Senate Democrat voted for last month.

“My top-line has been $1.5 [trillion],” he said, explaining that he doesn’t want “to change our whole society to an entitlement mentality.”

Manchin also said that he had shared his figure with President Biden. 

The statements from Manchin to a crowd of reporters outside the Capitol comes on a pivotal day for Biden’s legislative agenda. The House is scheduled to vote Thursday on a $1.1 trillion infrastructure bill backed by Manchin that passed the Senate, but progressives have threatened to vote against it unless a separate social spending measure is moved in tandem.

Progressives say the floor for that larger bill should be $3.5 trillion, far more than Manchin’s proposed $1.5 trillion top-line figure.

The larger bill is being crafted under budget reconciliation rules that prevent Republicans from filibustering the measure in the Senate. But that also effectively hands veto power to any Democratic senator who wants to oppose it. 

Manchin and fellow centrist Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have been under pressure from progressives to make clear what they can agree to in terms of the social spending bill.

With his comments Thursday, Manchin took a solid step toward doing so, but also gave a public glimpse at how far apart Democrats are to reaching a deal that has the votes to pass the House and Senate.

It also endangers the infrastructure bill, as progressives fear that if that bill is approved, it could take away leverage to get Manchin and Sinema to back the social spending measure.

Manchin confirmed that he signed a memorandum of understanding with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) at the end of July setting $1.5 trillion as his spending limit for Biden’s social spending measure, and explained he did so as a precondition for voting for the Senate budget resolution in August.

“I didn’t think any of this was needed at this time. I thought the infrastructure bill was really what was needed but I said fine, this is a condition I would get to and that was a $1.5 [trillion package],” he said.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), the other Senate Democratic moderate holding up negotiations over the size of the reconciliation package, issued a statement after Manchin’s press conference declaring her opposition to a $3.5 trillion human infrastructure package.

“Sen. Sinema said publicly more than two months ago, before Senate passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, that she would not support a bill costing $3.5 trillion,” she said in a statement posted on Twitter. “In August, she shared detailed concerns and priorities, including dollar figures, directly with Senate Majority Leader Schumer and the White House.”

Manchin said he agreed to vote for the budget resolution with the $3.5 trillion spending target because he didn’t want to be “a fly in the ointment.”

“At that point in time I was not in favor of moving on this type of piece of legislation. I wasn’t trying to be the fly in the ointment at all,” he said, explaining his reluctance to agree to setting up a path for a massive reconciliation bill before the Senate moved to the budget resolution, which needed the vote of every single Democratic senator to pass. 

He expressed surprise that his top-line spending demand hadn’t leaked early and said he was mystified by repeated claims that he wasn’t putting out a top-line number in negotiations. 

While Schumer knew about Manchin’s top-line spending limit in July, it was a closely held secret.

Moments before Manchin publicly revealed his position, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told a CNN reporter outside the Judiciary Committee hearing room, “I want to know what Joe’s number is.”

Manchin said he wanted to be a team player at the time the Senate debated the budget resolution, but revealed he always had misgivings about spending another several trillion dollars after the Congress passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan in March and the Senate passed a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill in August. 

“I’ve never been a liberal in any way, shape or … form. No one ever thought I was. I’ve been governor, I’ve been secretary of state, I’ve been state legislator, I’ve been U.S. senator and I have voted pretty consistently my whole life,” he said. 

Manchin’s position is sure to anger progressive Democrats who expected him to agree to passing a multi-trillion-dollar reconciliation bill if they voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which he crafted with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), senior White House officials and moderate Senate Republicans.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a leading Senate progressive, suggested on Thursday that’s Manchin’s spending goal would not be high enough to pay for all of the priorities in Biden’s Build Back Better agenda.

“What we’ve all talked about as Democrats are the things we need to get done and we need to do that with a realistic price tag,” she said. “We are all Democrats and we know what we need to get done. Everything on that list is something we all [want.]”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said of Manchin’s $1.5 trillion top line: “It’s problematic but we’ll see where it goes.”

A crowd of protesters assembled outside the Capitol chanted “Hey Joe, we had a deal!” as Manchin walked up to television cameras on the East Front.

Manchin suggested that he understood that progressives would be disappointed but noted that their views are simply much different from his own.

“I don’t fault any of them who believe that they are much more progressive and much more liberal. God bless them,” he said.

Asked if $1.5 trillion is his final offer, Manchin said that progressives should be willing to accept what they and the moderates can agree on and then campaign on the priorities they didn’t get passed in the next election.

“All they need to do is we have to elect more — I guess for them to get theirs — elect more liberals but I’m not asking them to change. I’m willing to come from zero to 1.5 [trillion,]” he said. 

He expressed concern that pumping another $3.5 trillion into the economy could “jeopardize” future prosperity and cited rising inflation as a serious concern in West Virginia, which is why he called for work on the reconciliation bill to be paused in early September.

“The 1.5 [trillion dollars] was always done from my heart or basically what we could do and not jeopardize, not jeopardize, our economy,” he said. “I asked for the strategic pause because … we basically had COVID coming back at us.”

Manchin pointed out that many items at the Dollar General stores in his home state now cost more than they used to because of the falling value of the dollar.

In the memo signed with Schumer in July, Manchin called for any revenues raised above the cost of a $1.5 trillion spending package should be used to reduce the deficit.

He said he hadn’t spoken to House progressives such as Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chairwoman of the House Progressive Caucus, but would be willing to. 

Manchin disputed reporters’ assertions that his unwillingness to embrace the $3.5 trillion goal set by the budget resolution would imperil House passage of the bipartisan infrastructure package, which is in danger of failing in the lower chamber because progressives believe it should move in tandem with the larger reconciliation package.

“I’ve already voted for it,” he said. 

He said House progressives should judge the bill on its own merits and not derail it because of a disagreement over separate legislation. 

Jordain Carney contributed.

Updated at 2:00 p.m.

Tags $3.5 trillion spending bill Chuck Schumer Dick Durbin Elizabeth Warren Infrastructure Joe Biden Joe Manchin Kyrsten Sinema Pramila Jayapal Reconciliation Senate

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