Sanders pushes back at Manchin on $3.5T spending plan

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie SandersBernie SandersFranken targets senators from both parties in new comedy tour Pelosi says House members would not vote on spending bill top line higher than Senate's Groups push lawmakers to use defense bill to end support for Saudis in Yemen civil war MORE (I-Vt.) said Democrats can’t afford to slow down progress on a $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package after Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by the League of Conservation Voters — Biden, Xi talk climate at UN forum Election reform in the states is not all doom and gloom Manchin presses Interior nominee on leasing program review MORE (D-W.Va.) said the party should hit the pause button.

“You can’t slow it down,” Sanders told The New York Times in an interview over the weekend during his recent trip to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, one of the latest stops on his cross-state campaign to the forthcoming legislation.

The massive spending plan, which Democrats have already been at work crafting during recess this month, is expected to check off a number of party-backed priorities, including funding for universal pre-K, tuition-free community college and health care expansions. 

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Manchin, who has expressed concerns about the price tag for the package, had urged his colleagues  to “hit the pause button.”

"I, for one, won’t support a $3.5 trillion bill, or anywhere near that level of additional spending, without greater clarity about why Congress chooses to ignore the serious effects inflation and debt have on existing government programs," Manchin wrote in an opinion piece last week. 

Democrats had hoped to move the spending plan through the House by the end of September. But Manchin said there was a need for more “clarity on the trajectory of the pandemic” before spending so much money. He also expressed concerns about inflation.

Sanders said it's crucial Democrats act quickly on the $3.5 trillion plan, which the party hopes to pass on a Democratic-only vote. That will require all 50 Democrats in the Senate to be unified. Budget reconciliation rules prevent the GOP from filibustering the measure.

“Within a little while, everything is going to become political. The only way you get things done historically in Congress is in the first year of a session, where you can escape a little bit from the partisan politics,” he said.

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Manchin’s resistance to the top-line figure poses one of many obstacles the party faces as it struggles to maintain a united front amid spending negotiations.

Pressed about Manchin’s call for Democrats to pause on the reconciliation bill, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocrats seek to cool simmering tensions Louisiana delegation split over debt hike bill with disaster aid House Democrats unveil legislation to curtail presidential power MORE (D-Calif.) said on early Tuesday that she “obviously” doesn’t agree with his position.

“Everybody’s working very hard. The committees are doing their work. We’re on a good timetable and I feel very exhilarated,” she said.

Sanders also expressed confidence that the party will pass the bill with the $3.5 trillion price tag, noting he has “already made a compromise,” after he previously sought for a $6 trillion plan.

“After a lot of negotiations and pain — and I’m going to be on the phone all week — what we are going to do is pass the most comprehensive bill for working families that this country has seen,” he said.

He predicted the $3.5 trillion package would get through the Senate with all 50 Democrats backing it, and Vice President Harris breaking the tie.