Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) indicated Thursday that he and President Joe Biden, who has been deeply involved in negotiations over the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation, are working to overcome lingering disagreements over the scope of the legislation.
Manchin said of ongoing negotiations 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, who has called himself “a conservative Democrat,” has been a crucial swing vote for Democratic policy priorities.
While Manchin has voted with his party for several trillion dollar CCP (Chinese Communist Party virus) virus relief packages over the course of the pandemic, he has diverged from the party just as often. Because of their slim single vote majority in the Senate, Democrats must have Manchin on board to pass the budget reconciliation bill—but he has been hesitant to give that support.
Before its August recess, Manchin voted to move the budget out of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) Budget Committee “out of respect for [his] colleagues,” but emphasized then that he was making no promises to vote for the bill when it came back to the upper chamber.
Later, Manchin said that he had decided not to vote for the bill. In an opinion article for the Wall Street Journal, he explained the decision.
“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,” Manchin wrote of his colleagues. “I disagree.”
He declared that he would not vote for the bill “without greater clarity about why Congress chooses to ignore the serious effects inflation and debt have on existing government programs.”
Since then, a key concern for Democrats rushing to draft the legislation has been to win Manchin’s approval. To that end, the president has helped to lead negotiations.
The budget bill, in addition to the $1.2 trillion Senate-passed infrastructure bill, is critical to Biden as part of his “build back better” agenda.
Final Price Tag on Budget Still In the Air
After a Wednesday meeting with the president, Manchin expressed confidence about the direction of the negotiations.
“I think basically everybody’s gonna work toward [a compromise] to give [Biden] something to work off of,” Manchin said, adding, “We’ll see what happens.”
At a Wednesday meeting between the president and moderates, Manchin said that Biden “just basically said find a number you’re comfortable with.” He reported the president as saying, “Give me a number.”
Throughout the course of these negations, leadership has been silent on what that final number may be.
At a press conference after a Democratic caucus meeting, caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) evaded a question on these negotiations, saying that he would not reveal the results of “ongoing discussions.” Vice Chair Pete Aguilar added that $3.5 trillion was the maximum the bill would go to, but that the party was working “to get as close to 3.5 as possible.”
At a press conference Thursday, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said that she and other Democrats “are for the 3.5 number because that’s the number that the president and the Senate sent us.” But Pelosi also refused to commit.
Democrats must also work to craft legislation that will appeal to their progressive wing. Sanders’s original proposal was a $6 trillion bill, and has indicated that he and other progressives feel they have already compromised enough.
Sanders remarked after a separate meeting on the bill that “the top line has come down. It started at $6 trillion.” The support of progressives in the House, a 95-strong caucus, is equally necessary to Democratic leadership as they put the finishing touches on the budget bill.
Because of an agreement made by Pelosi with moderates in the House, the budget bill is set at a Monday deadline; The Speaker has insisted that the deadline will be kept. But Manchin, despite his optimism after his meetings with the president, has yet to commit to voting for the bill.