Schumer feels heat to get Manchin and Sinema on board

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is under increasing pressure to get fellow Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) on board with a massive social spending bill that’s part of President Biden’s economic agenda.

Patience with the two holdouts is wearing thin among fellow Democrats, as leadership struggles to find a path forward on a multitrillion-dollar spending package that would unlock funding for a slew of the president’s legislative priorities, including tuition-free community college and universal preschool. Failure to reach an agreement on a framework for that measure forced House leaders on Thursday to postpone a planned vote on the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Many Democrats are furious with the stalled progress in the upper chamber and have been quick to point the finger at Manchin and Sinema. Schumer, who became majority leader in January, now faces a tall order in getting the pair in line amid efforts to keep Biden’s agenda alive.

Democratic strategist Israel Klein, a former Senate aide, said unifying all 50 Senate Democrats behind the spending legislation is challenging to begin with, but even more so given the timing and competing priorities within the party.

“Doing it at the beginning of a new administration is hard. Doing it after an insurrection is hard. Doing it with so many big legislative priorities on the table is really hard. … But it’s also just hard to begin with,” said Klein, who previously worked for Schumer.

No Republicans are expected to vote for the social spending package, which Democrats are aiming to pass through the budget reconciliation process in order to sidestep a GOP filibuster. That means every Senate Democrat will need to vote for the package.

A key challenge to making that happen is striking a deal on the amount of spending and tax cuts that will be in the package.

“I think there’s a real effort to come up with a top-line number,” Schumer told reporters Tuesday, noting that Biden has been meeting with Manchin and Sinema in recent days.

Democrats have agreed to a budget resolution that calls for up to $3.5 trillion in spending and tax cuts, which lawmakers want to pay for through tax increases on high-income households and corporations. Progressives say they wanted to spend $6 trillion, and they consider the $3.5 trillion figure a compromise. But Manchin and Sinema have both indicated that they think $3.5 trillion is too high of a price tag.

Manchin on Thursday said his spending limit for the bill is $1.5 trillion. He’s also said he wants to raise taxes by less than Biden proposed earlier this year.

Manchin confirmed that he signed a memo with Schumer in late July, first reported by Politico, that outlined the West Virginia senator’s position on the top-line spending figure and tax rates.

“My top line has been $1.5 [trillion],” Manchin told reporters Thursday afternoon, adding he doesn’t want “to change our whole society to an entitlement mentality.”

A spokesman for Schumer said the majority leader “never agreed to any of the conditions Sen. Manchin laid out; he merely acknowledged where Sen. Manchin was on the subject at the time.”

The spokesman added that Schumer “made clear that he would work to convince Sen. Manchin to support a final reconciliation bill” and has been talking to Manchin for weeks.

Sinema has publicly said less about her priorities for the reconciliation bill than Manchin. Her office said Thursday that she shared “detailed concerns and priorities” with Schumer in August.

“While we do not negotiate through the press — because Senator Sinema respects the integrity of those direct negotiations — she continues to engage directly in good-faith discussions with both President Biden and Senator Schumer to find common ground,” Sinema communications director John LaBombard said in a statement.

Progressives weren’t satisfied by the latest comments from the moderates.

Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said Manchin’s comments justify progressives’ desire to not vote on a Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill until a social spending package passes Congress.

“This is why we’re not voting for that bipartisan bill until we get agreement on the reconciliation bill,” Jayapal said.

As majority leader, it’s a responsibility of Schumer’s to get Manchin and Sinema to further articulate their priorities and to ultimately reach an agreement to back a reconciliation bill.

“I think that if we’re going to get a deal in the end, that we need to know what we’re getting, and that’s what Schumer’s job is,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) told reporters Wednesday.

Members of the party are betting big on the New York Democrat, whose efforts over the years have been instrumental in helping Democrats gain majorities in the upper chamber.

But the stakes are getting higher as Biden’s poll numbers slip and next year’s midterm elections draw closer.

Schumer has been working closely with House leadership and the White House to coordinate the trillions in spending, announcing in early September that leaders reached an agreement on a “framework” to pay for the social spending plan.

But some rank-and-file Democrats feel left in the dark amid the work behind the scenes, voicing frustrations about “mixed signals” as leaders juggle multiple pieces of legislation and competing factions of the party.

“We have a simple problem, a thin margin in the House, no margin in the Senate. And that means that any one senator or any three Democrats can essentially derail the entire effort for whatever reason. So that’s hard,” said Rep. Peter Welch (Vt.), chief deputy whip of the House Democratic Caucus.

Those who have worked closely with Schumer over the years say the majority leader is making every effort to get the social spending package across the finish line.

“I don’t think anybody ever thought being Senate majority leader was a walk in the park,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who like Schumer is a longtime member of Congress. “I think he’s moving in a disciplined way to try to deal with the various moving pieces.”

Tags Biden agenda Charles Schumer Joe Biden Joe Manchin Jon Tester Kyrsten Sinema moderates Peter Welch Pramila Jayapal progressives Ron Wyden spending bill

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