Sanders to Manchin, Sinema: 'Tell us what you want' in spending fight

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie SandersBernie SandersOn The Money — Progressives play hard ball on Biden budget plan The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - Biden: We will fix nation's problems Left doubles down on aggressive strategy MORE (I-Vt.) on Wednesday aired his frustration with moderate Democrats, arguing they should be more specific about what they want in a fight over a sweeping social spending plan. 

Sanders convened a press conference Wednesday to fire back at Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinOn The Money — Progressives play hard ball on Biden budget plan Schumer, McConnell headed for another collision over voting rights Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Climate divides conservative Democrats in reconciliation push MORE (D-W.Va.) after the centrist Democrat told reporters earlier in the day that $1.5 trillion was his top line on the spending fight and warned against creating an "entitlement" society.  

"The time is long overdue for him to tell us with specificity — not generalities; we're beyond generalities ... what he wants and what he does not want, and explain that to the people of West Virginia," Sanders told reporters.  

ADVERTISEMENT

Sanders also made a similar demand of Sen. Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaOn The Money — Progressives play hard ball on Biden budget plan Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Climate divides conservative Democrats in reconciliation push Pelosi on addressing climate through reconciliation package: 'This is our moment' MORE (D-Ariz.), when a reporter asked about the moderate Democrat. Sanders noted that he had seen reports that Sinema was opposed to certain tax increases, but hadn't heard specifics from her. 

“Sen. Sinema’s position is that she does not negotiate publicly. I don’t know what that means … Don’t know where she’s coming from," Sanders said. 

He added that he would make the same request of Sinema that he's making of Manchin: "Tell us what you want."  

But most of Sanders's nearly 15-minute press conference was focused on Manchin, who is on the opposite side of the Democratic caucus from Sanders. Though the two men are both on Schumer's leadership team, former aides have characterized them as having little working history or personal relationship  

Sanders, during the press conference, went through a laundry list of programs Democrats are hoping to include in their spending package including drug reforms, new child care programs, paid family leave and expanding Medicare to cover hearing, vision and dental. 

"Does Sen. Manchin really believe that seniors are not entitled to digest their food, and they're not entitled to hear and see properly? Is that really too much to ask?" Sanders asked. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Sanders and Manchin are also deeply divided on the potential top line for the Democratic spending package. Progressives wanted a bill of $6 trillion and viewed $3.5 trillion as a compromise. 

Manchin, however, told reporters on Wednesday morning that $1.5 trillion was his top line for the spending bill.  

"My number has been $1.5. I've been very clear," he said.

"I've been very clear when it comes to who we are as a society, who we are as a nation. ... I don't believe that we should turn our society into an entitlement society. I think we should still be a compassionate, rewarding society," Manchin said.

Manchin, in a statement after Sanders' press conference, said Sanders wants to move the country toward an "entitlement society." 

“Respectfully, Senator Sanders and I share very different policy and political beliefs. ... believe we should have a compassionate and rewarding society,” Manchin said. 

But Sanders, during his press conference, argued that most of the Senate Democratic caucus supported a $3.5 trillion top line for their spending bill.

"I'm not here to disparage Sen. Manchin," Sanders said. "[But] we've got 48 senators who support $3.5 trillion. We have two people who don't."

"It is wrong, it is really not playing fair, that one or two people think they should be able to stop what 48 members of the Democratic caucus wants, what the American people want, what the president of the United States wants," he said. "Two people do not have a right to sabotage what 48 want." 

Aris Folley contributed. Updated at 6:03 p.m.