Democratic senators say that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has made it clear to them through what they say are stalling tactics that he has no desire to vote on President Biden’s sweeping climate and social spending agenda before Christmas.
They say that if Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) schedules a vote on a motion to proceed to the Build Back Better Act before Christmas that it will get the support of 49 members of the Democratic caucus and that Manchin’s vote is the only question mark.
While Democratic negotiators acknowledge there are still intraparty disagreements to iron out, such as the details of a proposal to raise the cap on state and local tax (SALT) deductions, and that there’s a big backlog of work at the parliamentarian’s office, they insist everything could get done by Christmas if they had Manchin on board.
The problem, Democratic senators say, is that Manchin is showing no sign of getting behind the $2 trillion bill anytime this month.
One senior Democratic senator said there’s “no question” the bill could pass the Senate by Christmas — Schumer’s goal — if Manchin cooperated.
“We know we have 49 votes,” the senator said, referring to near unanimous support in the Democratic caucus for acting in the next two weeks. “We have 49 people, all we need is Manchin.”
A second Democratic senator said “there are a couple more things to negotiate, which we could complete I think relatively quickly just to get it done, and then the question is whether Manchin is willing to go forward.”
“SALT’s not holding it up,” the source added, referring to the disagreement among senators over how to address the cap on state and local tax deductions, which Republicans implemented under former President Trump to extract more revenue from Democratic states.
The senator added that the Senate parliamentarian’s office has assured Democrats that it will be able to fully vet the Build Back Better Act in time for Schumer to schedule a floor vote before Christmas.
A third Democratic senator said, “I am aware that he wants to wait,” referring to Manchin, but noted that the centrist senator is getting strong pushback from colleagues.
“I am also aware people are fed up. People are basically saying, ‘Look, if this thing goes down, let him vote against it,’” the lawmaker added, explaining that a growing group of Democratic senators want Schumer to put the bill on the floor, schedule a vote on a motion to proceed and force Manchin’s hand.
Manchin told The Hill that Schumer is tasked with setting the schedule for the Build Back Better Act and insisted that he isn’t dictating the timing of a vote.
“As I said before, I’m not in charge of the calendar. Whenever he thinks he ought to vote, he ought to vote,” he said of Schumer.
Manchin said that he has not asked the White House or Democratic leaders to hold off on putting the massive bill on the Senate floor.
Yet Manchin has repeatedly raised concerns about the legislation and called for his colleagues to proceed slowly and carefully in considering it.
At an event sponsored by The Wall Street Journal, Manchin again warned Democratic colleagues to move cautiously and deliberately in order to not overstimulate the economy.
“We’ve got to make sure we get this right. We can’t afford to continue to flood the market as we’ve done,” he said.
A key report will come out Friday morning when the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its inflation numbers for November, which Manchin may point to as another reason to slow down.
Manchin has continued to make it clear that he’s not happy that Democrats haven’t been able to pick up any Republican support for their ambitious spending plans.
He showed a paper to reporters on Wednesday touting the Senate’s bipartisan accomplishments of the past 12 months.
His list included the $900 billion bipartisan COVID-19 relief act, which passed 92-6; the Energy Act of 2020, which passed 92-6; the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which passed 94-1; and the $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which passed 69-30.
His document contrasted the long list of bipartisan accomplishments with the shorter list of purely partisan accomplishments, such as the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which barely passed the Senate 50-49.
The message was clear: Manchin thinks the Senate is more effective when Congress works on a bipartisan basis.
Manchin’s paper also put in historical context the $5.4 trillion Congress has spent to respond to the pandemic and the $1.2 trillion it provided for infrastructure investment this fall.
It contrasted those figures with the price of fighting World War II and rebuilding Western Europe through the Marshall Plan, which cost $4.5 trillion and $151 billion, respectively, in inflation-adjusted dollars, according to Manchin.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is one of several Democrats calling for Manchin to face a “high-noon moment” before Christmas.
“I think you need a finite deadline, kind of like a high-noon moment, where people have to make a decision finally. God bless Joe Manchin, but how many months has this gone on? I told him a month ago, ‘For God’s sake Joe, declare victory, close the deal.’ But he hasn’t done it,” he told reporters.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said it’s “possible” to get the more than 2,400-page budget reconciliation bill done by the end of the year but warned “it could go either way.”
Cardin said “it’s true” that Democrats feel confident there are 49 votes for the package and “it’s more of a one-person concern” that is holding up the bill. But Cardin said the immediate focus is on vetting all the provisions of the bill with the parliamentarian before trying to lock down 50 votes for it.
He also cautioned “there are so many pieces” that still need to come together in the legislation and that a policy dispute could arise at any moment “that could get people upset,” such as a fight over setting an income threshold for people who claim SALT deductions.
Republicans, meanwhile, feel confident that Manchin will continue to hold the line on the climate and social spending package until next year, giving them more time to chip away at public support for Biden’s agenda.
Senate Republican Conference Committee Chairman John Barrasso (Wyo.) said Thursday that he thinks Manchin will hold up the bill until 2022.
Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) said Democrats also still have a lot of work to do to nail down centrist Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s (D-Ariz.) vote, as well as Manchin’s.
“The Dems are kind of going through the stages of grief and I don’t think they’ll get to the last stage until the end of next week, when they realize that Sinema and Manchin aren’t anywhere close nor is the bill ready,” Thune said.
“I don’t see any way possible that they transact this before Christmas, as much as they want to,” he added. “The idea that they can try and get this done before Christmas is about as real as Santa Claus.”