Since the earliest stages of the Democratic reconciliation bill, all eyes have been on Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a critical swing vote who could make or break Democratic plans. Manchin rejected the bill’s $3.5 trillion price tag, but the self-described “conservative Democrat” has since been tight-lipped on what price tag he would support. On Thursday, Manchin finally gave an indication of his top line price: $1.5 trillion.
In a Wall Street Journal opinion article, Manchin indicated that he was not unilaterally rejecting the bill altogether, but demanded “greater clarity about why Congress chooses to ignore the serious effects inflation and debt have on existing government programs.”
Manchin wrote: “some in Congress have a strange belief there is an infinite supply of money to deal with any current or future crisis, and that spending trillions upon trillions will have no negative consequence for the future. I disagree.”
He criticized the reckless spending of his colleagues, saying that it was creating a new “inflation tax” on all Americans.
He discussed serious concerns about the national debt as well, which has ballooned to well over $28 trillion. Manchin says that now is not the right time for the resolution after the government has already “spent more than $5 trillion responding to the coronavirus pandemic.”
He criticized his colleagues’ nonchalance toward this record-spending: “Now Democratic congressional leaders propose to pass the largest single spending bill in history with no regard to rising inflation, crippling debt or the inevitability of future crises. Ignoring the fiscal consequences of our policy choices will create a disastrous future for the next generation of Americans.”
Other moderates, like Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) have also expressed hesitation or outright opposition to the bill.
A spokesman for Sinema, who has said little about the bill since its introduction, said simply, “Kyrsten will not support a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill.”
Warner, who has been leading moderates in negotiations with the president, also said that moderates had “expectations” that he implied had not been met.
After a meeting with the president and other moderates, Manchin gave signs that he was optimistic about the direction of the bill, saying that “the president is deeply committed to getting things done and we’re committed to working with him to try to find a pathway forward.”
Manchin also reported Biden as having asked moderates to “give [him] a number.”
Manchin Rejects More Than $1.5 Trillion in Reconciliation
After weeks of giving no indication of what kind of bill he would support, Manchin has finally disclosed his personal expectations about the price tag he wants.
Manchin discussed a conversation between him and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in which Manchin asked for a max cost of $1.5 trillion. Speaking to reporters, Manchin said “that $1.5 trillion was always done from my heart.” He said he thought that figure was the most the government could do without “jeopardiz[ing] our economy.”
Manchin said he was willing to work with leadership to negotiate “our priorities” at a $1.5 trillion price point. He said that if Democrats wanted to do more “they can run on the rest of it later,” adding “there’s many ways to get where they want to, just not [by] doing everything at one time.”
This is sure to be unacceptable to progressives, who feel they have already compromised by reducing Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) original $6 trillion budget to $3.5 trillion.
Sanders has long made this point. After one meeting on the bill, the senator complained that “the top line has come down. It started at $6 trillion.” Still, Sanders did not entirely reject a smaller bill altogether, as negotiations between moderates and progressives continued.
Tuesday, just two days before the scheduled vote on the hastily crafted reconciliation bill, Sanders came out publicly against any bill with a price tag lower than $3.5 trillion.
On Twitter, Sanders wrote: “No infrastructure bill should pass without a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill. That is the agreement that was made & that is the agreement that must be kept. Physical infrastructure is important, but the needs of working families & combatting climate change is more important.”
Progressives have expressed plans to do just this since early August, having long said that they will not support the infrastructure bill without first passing a substantial budget bill. Sanders’s tweet reemphasizes progressives’ commitment to that threat.
But Manchin seemed unfazed by this threat from progressives. He said, “I’ve never been a liberal in any way, shape, or form.” If progressives want a bigger reconciliation bill, he quipped, “elect more liberals.”