Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said Thursday that talks over President Biden’s sweeping climate and social spending package would be “starting from scratch,” throwing cold water on hopes of a quick revival.
“We’re going to start with a clean sheet of paper and start over,” Manchin told reporters, adding he doesn’t have talks scheduled with the White House.
Pressed if his previous $1.8 trillion offer to the White House was still on the table, Manchin indicated it wasn’t, saying Democrats will “just be starting from scratch.”
Manchin’s comments come as the White House and top Democrats get ready to try to turn their focus back to the Build Back Better Act.
The bill unraveled in the Senate late last year after Manchin, during a Fox News interview, warned that he could not support the roughly $2 trillion version that passed the House. His comments Thursday underscore how far apart Democrats are on a deal.
Manchin initially told reporters on Wednesday that he hadn’t yet heard from the White House on trying to break up the package and said Thursday that he didn’t have anything scheduled with the White House.
“If anybody wants to talk, I’ll always talk,” Manchin said, but when asked what the next step is, he added, “I can’t tell you.”
Biden opened the door to shrinking the plan, which was at the heart of his legislative agenda, telling reporters this week that “we’re going to have to probably break it up.”
And top congressional Democrats have acknowledged that the spending plan will likely need to be scaled back to win over support from Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), even as progressives bristle at the idea of going smaller.
Progressives initially hoped for a bill of $6 trillion before agreeing to a budget resolution that greenlighted a $3.5 trillion bill, only to see that get scaled back further.
“What the president calls ‘chunks’ I would hope would be a major bill going forward. It may be more limited, but it is still significant,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters on Thursday.
Democrats haven’t put a hard timeline on when they would like to try to pass a revised bill. Biden’s March 1 State of the Union address has been floated as a potential deadline, though lawmakers are also facing a mid-February deadline to fund the government that will eat up part of Congress’s bandwidth in the immediate future.
Democrats also need to make hard decisions — without alienating portions of their razor-thin majorities — on what gets booted out of the legislation to satisfy Manchin.
Manchin on Thursday signaled a general openness to legislation while reiterating his concerns about moving too quickly. He also doubled down on his concerns about inflation and the rise of the omicron COVID-19 variant.
“The main thing we need to do is take care of the inflation. Get your financial house in order. Get a tax code that works,” Manchin said. “We can do a lot of good things. … But get your financial house in order. Get this inflation down. Get COVID out of the way and then we’ll be rolling.”
Manchin has sparked frustration from progressive groups and his own colleagues over his stance on Build Back Better as well as his separate opposition to changing the 60-vote legislative filibuster to enact voting rights legislation in the face of GOP opposition.
Manchin said Thursday that he had been “upfront” about what he could, or couldn’t, get behind and noted his political base in the deeply red state of West Virginia is different than that of many of his Democratic colleagues.
“First of all, I think everyone should be respectful that we have a 50-50 [Senate]. … I think I’ve been more than considerate on the things that I’ve been, and where I can’t, I’ve been telling them from Day One. They knew exactly,” Manchin said.
“I’m not a Washington Democrat, so the base they have is a different base than I have,” he added.