Manchin frustrates Democrats with latest outburst
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on Monday refused to sign off on a $1.75 trillion social spending and climate measure at the heart of President Biden’s economic agenda, throwing a wrench into plans for a swift House vote this week.
Manchin accused the Democratic authors of the ambitious framework of using “shell games and budget gimmicks” to mask “the real cost” of the legislation, which he said could wind up being “twice as high” as advertised if its programs are extended.
He called media reports asserting that he privately supports the White House framework as “mischaracterizations” and warned that he would not sign off until he fully understands how the complex legislation will impact an economy already flush with trillions of dollars of federal stimulus.
He declared he wouldn’t vote for any bill without “thoroughly understanding the impact it will have on our national debt” and warned of the risk of “hurting American families suffering from historic inflation.”
Manchin also called out House progressives who are holding up the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that he helped negotiate in the upper chamber. He insisted that holding the bill hostage wouldn’t make him any more likely to agree to a bigger reconciliation bill.
His words had a deflating effect on Democratic colleagues who had hoped Manchin would be more of a team player.
“I say at some point, close the deal,” Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) said with a little exasperated sigh when asked by reporters about Manchin’s comments.
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) also expressed her growing impatience and frustration.
“I would like to ask Joe Manchin, ‘You know what Joe, we really need to be moving.’ … I don’t think we’re moving too fast,” she said.
Hirono made it clear she’s not happy about Manchin latching onto Republican talking points about rising inflation and that investing in social priorities such as expanding Medicare and paying for family leave would risk creating a future fiscal mess.
“What do you think I think? I think it sucks,” Hirono said of Manchin’s criticisms.
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said he thought it was a mistake for the House not to pass the infrastructure bill but that Manchin also made a mistake.
“Of course, but I think Joe made a mistake today by going out and making this news conference,” he said.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) didn’t directly name Manchin but pushed back at his remarks, arguing that the spending plan will be fully paid for. He also pointedly noted that the infrastructure bill backed by Manchin would add to the deficit, according to a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis.
“If there’s anybody in the Democratic caucus or elsewhere that’s worried about fiscal responsibility and the deficit the fact is … that according to the CBO the infrastructure bill runs up to a $250 billion deficit. It’s not paid for,” Sanders said.
“The legislation that I wanna see passed … is paid for in its entirety. It will not have an impact on inflation,” Sanders added. “So if we’re talking about fiscal responsibility I think what we’re trying to do with the reconciliation bill is the right thing.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said he was puzzled by Manchin’s claim that the bill is full of “shell games and budget gimmicks.”
“That’s certainly not the impression I have,” he said.
Manchin’s televised remarks Monday afternoon came at an awkward moment for Biden, who at the time was meeting with other global leaders at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, where he wanted to tout progress in Congress on making historic new investments in fighting climate change.
Manchin has repeatedly been an obstacle to Senate Democrats and an irritation to House progressives.
He’s refused to agree to include paid family leave in the bill and also objected to other key party priorities such as expanding Medicare. The bill is only $1.75 trillion because Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) objected to the $3.5 trillion price tag greenlighted under the budget resolution earlier this year.
At the same time, it was unclear how much of an impediment Manchin’s latest remarks represented.
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) tweeted in response to Manchin: “None of what was said was exactly new. The tone alarmed people, but substantively nothing has changed.”
House progressives and the White House immediately downplayed the impact of Manchin’s comments, predicting that all 50 Democrats would be on board when it counts.
“We remain confident that the plan will gain Sen. Manchin’s support,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki, arguing that the bill under negotiation will meet Manchin’s red lines on both combating inflation and not adding to the debt.
House leadership and key members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus signaled that they are moving forward with voting on both the social spending bill and the infrastructure package within a matter of days.
“Democrats look forward to passing the Build Back Better Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework For The People,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement that didn’t directly mention Manchin.
Schumer declined to answer several questions about Manchin’s press conference, instead directing reporters to his scripted Senate floor remarks where he appeared upbeat about the path forward.
“We are still talking and working through important details and making good progress, and I want to thank all my colleagues for their diligence, their expertise, and their commitment to getting something done,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.