Democrats pour cold water on Manchin’s $1.5T price tag

His fellow Democrats quickly poured cold water Thursday on Sen. Joe Manchin’s (W.Va.) suggested maximum of a $1.5 trillion social spending bill, underscoring the rocky path facing leadership and President Biden on advancing their biggest legislative priority. 

Manchin, in a massive scrum on Capitol Hill, doubled down on $1.5 trillion being his ceiling for how high he’s willing to go on the spending bill, reiterating his position that he outlined to Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) in a late July memo, but that several Democratic senators said they didn’t see until it was leaked on Thursday.

Manchin’s position is less than half of the $3.5 trillion Democrats greenlit under a budget resolution they passed earlier this year, which will allow them to bypass the 60-vote legislative filibuster in the Senate. 

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) argued that Manchin’s position is where he’s been for months — Manchin said publicly in June that he could support something between $1 trillion and $2 trillion — but predicted it won’t be where Democrats end up. 

“It will be changed,” Durbin said, adding of the $1.5 trillion figure: “I don’t know where that came from.”

Other Democrats, while leaving the door open to negotiations, warned Thursday that they view scaling down their sweeping ambitions to fit under Manchin’s price tag as a non-starter. 

“I think it’s problematic,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). “We’ll see where it goes.” 

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) added that she is open to going below $3.5 trillion but called Manchin’s figure “pretty sad.”

“Oh no, of course not,” Hirono added, when asked if she had seen Manchin’s memo when he wrote it in July. “I just saw it today.” 

Democrats met for a pre-scheduled, closed-door caucus lunch shortly after Manchin outlined where he was on the spending bill, which the party hopes to use to pass big priorities including expanded health care, new child care and education benefits, overhauling the tax code and new measures to combat climate change. 

Manchin, according to Democratic senators, didn’t address the caucus during the lunch on his thinking on the budget reconciliation bill. 

Other progressives were careful not to criticize Manchin directly, but stressed that they disagree with his stance. 

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) argued there’s support from Biden and 48 members of the Senate Democratic caucus to “go forward on a major reconciliation, reconciliation bill.” 

“That is what we have got to do,” Sanders said. “So Mr. Manchin has his view on the subject, I have another view which is that $3.5 trillion is actually a conservative number … and I’m going to do my best to fight for that.” 

Asked about Manchin’s position, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) cited a laundry list of priorities that Democrats need to tackle as part of their reconciliation bill, suggesting that the amount backed by Manchin wouldn’t be adequate to meet the priorities Democrats want to get in their spending bill. 

“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,” Warren said. 

Democrats are trying to get a bill they tout as the most significant piece of legislation passed in decades through a Congress where they have razor-thin margins. Manchin’s red line comes as House Democrats are in the middle of a days-long fight over a roughly $1 trillion infrastructure bill that the West Virginia senator helped negotiate, with progressives threatening to tank it until they are ready to move the more sweeping social spending bill. 

Asked about Manchin’s top-line number, Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said her members are sticking by their offer of $3.5 trillion, and characterized Manchin as an outlier among congressional Democrats.

“There’s no point of negotiating against ourselves. We have invited Senator Manchin or anyone else who wants to put forward their vision — remember that’s only 4 percent of Democrats in the House and the Senate,” she said, referring to members who want a smaller social spending bill. 

Democrats have been increasingly public in their grumbles for Manchin to detail what he can or can’t support in their spending package, worried that the lack of clarity is slowing down a bill that is at the heart of Biden’s legislative agenda amid weeks of high-profile Democratic infighting. 

“This is a process. We recognize that. We know the president is directly engaged on it. I think we’re cautiously optimistic that at the end of the day this will work out, but we certainly would have liked to see more progress by now,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.). 

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) added that Manchin putting forward an offer of what he could support was a “good day.” 

“It’s certainly helpful to know Senator Manchin’s priorities, the numbers that matter to him. I think we all have to learn more about the details surrounding his proposal,” Murphy said. 

“I didn’t know specifically about the memo. I mean, the number is not a shocking number,” he added. “That number is not surprising to those of us who have been talking to Joe for a while.” 

Tags Ben Cardin Bernie Sanders Charles Schumer Chris Murphy Dick Durbin Elizabeth Warren Joe Biden Joe Manchin Mazie Hirono Pramila Jayapal
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