After moderate Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) re-upped his challenge to not vote for Democrats’ $1.75 trillion reconciliation bill, leaders in the party responded coolly, predicting that passage of the Biden agenda is near at hand.
The Biden agenda, consisting of the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure (BIF) bill and the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better reconciliation bill, has been stalled for months now due to squabbles within the party.
Progressives, since the reconciliation process began, have demanded a bulky, ambitious budget; Progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) initially planned to set the nation back $6 trillion. This number was far too high for moderates to support, and the bill was later scaled down to $3.5 trillion.
But for Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), $3.5 trillion was still far too much, forcing Democrats to further whittle down the bill to $1.75 trillion.
Manchin Demands More Time
The White House announced the $1.75 trillion compromise on Oct. 28.
This announcement caused many Democrats, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to assume that passage of the Biden agenda was in sight. But Sinema and Manchin, key to the agenda’s passage, did not commit to voting for the bill.
On Monday evening, Manchin made clear that more time is needed to consider the ramifications of even the substantially smaller bill.
“I will not support a bill that is this consequential without thoroughly understanding the impact it will have on our national debt, our economy, and, most importantly, all of our American people,” said Manchin. “We must allow time for complete transparency and analysis on the impact of changes to our tax code, energy, and climate policies to ensure that our country is well-positioned to remain the superpower of the world.”
Manchin also accused his party of hiding the price of the bill. The “so-called $1.75 trillion” reconciliation bill is full of “shell games” and “budget gimmicks that make the real cost of the [bill] estimated to be nearly twice that amount,” Manchin argued. “This is a recipe for economic crisis. None of us should ever misrepresent to the American people what the real cost of legislation is.”
“To be clear, I will not support the reconciliation bill without knowing how the bill will impact our debt and our economy and our country. We won’t know that until we work through the text.”
Democrats Disregard Threats
While this demand appears to throw a wrench in the Democrats’ plans, on Tuesday they made clear that they are not concerned by the threat.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), leader of the 96-strong Congressional Progressive Caucus, admitted “I did not understand [Manchin’s] press conference,” adding, “I’m just focused on getting the two bills passed.”
The progressive tried to avoid reporters’ questions on Manchin altogether, but when pushed, responded, “Look, I just have to believe what the president said right after the Senator spoke, that he is confident he can deliver 51 votes for this plan. I am going to trust the president, our members are going to trust the president, and we are going to do the job we need to do.”
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) echoed the sentiment. “I think the president has made a commitment … that he can have the votes,” Khanna said. “I don’t think he would make that commitment if he didn’t think he could get the votes.”
Jayapal said that despite Manchin’s threat, “I believe [passage of both bills] is gonna happen this week.”
Pelosi made the same prediction. “We’re on course to pass our bill,” Pelosi said of the reconciliation passage Monday night.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, was also optimistic. “I believe at the end of the day we’re gonna find common ground as we always do,” said Jeffries.
Others were more frustrated, however.
Sen. Bernie Sanders called for a swift end to negotiations, rejecting Manchin’s claim that more time is needed. “These so-called negotiations have gone on week after week, month after month,” Sanders said.
According to Sanders, progressives will continue to fight to “strengthen” the reconciliation bill—including expanding the bill’s healthcare provisions—but, Sanders added, “this process cannot go on week after week, month after month. It’s finally gotta come to an end.”
Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) said much the same of the requested delay.
“Look, if there’s a legitimate effort to perfect the bill, I get it. If it’s about perfecting the bill, that’s one thing; If it’s about stalling out on the bill, that’s quite another. So the quest for perfection is reasonable,” said Neal, before adding, “however—I mean—we’re there. And the differences are so small compared to the potential for achievement, I don’t understand why this would be delayed any further.”
Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) said that “Joe Manchin does not get to dictate the future of our country.”