In a Sept. 13 interview, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) rejected the reconciliation process being used to advance Democrats’ expansive $3.5 trillion budget bill.
Under the budget reconciliation process, created in the 1970s, certain bills related to federal revenue and spending can be passed through the Senate with only a simple majority. This move allows these bills, whose contents must be approved by the Senate parliamentarian, to avoid death by filibuster in the Senate, giving the majority party the upper hand.
Though initially created by Congress as a way to take back budget power from alleged executive overreach by President Richard Nixon, the scope of the budget reconciliation process has since been expanded dramatically, being used to pass some of the most controversial bills during the 2010s.
For example, Democrats used budget reconciliation to pass the Affordable Care Act, “Obamacare.” The bill passed without any Republican support, and repealing the legislation became one of the highest priorities for 2012 and 2016 Republican presidential candidates.
Republicans have not shied away from using the controversial process either. In 2017, the party, in control of both chambers of Congress, used it to pass the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The legislation most notably slashed corporate tax rates, bringing them down from a 35 percent flat rate to a 21 percent flat rate. This bill passed with no Democratic or Independent support in either chamber.
Democrats’ ongoing effort is only the latest controversial bill to take advantage of the controversial process.
Manchin, a moderate who describes himself as “a conservative Democrat,” has long been notorious among progressive Democrats. Because of their slight one-vote lead in the Senate, Democrats can only get some of their top priority policies passed with Manchin’s support—but in many cases, Manchin has not obliged the party, instead voting with Republicans occasionally. The senator has long emphasized the importance of bipartisanship and was a key element in gaining Republican support for the Senate-passed $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill.
But Manchin has been far less enthusiastic about the Democratic budget reconciliation bill, authored by progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
Before the Senate went on its August recess, Manchin agreed to move Sanders’ bill out of committee “out of respect for [his] colleagues,” but emphasized then that he was making no promises to vote for the bill when it comes back to the upper chamber.
Since then, Manchin has taken a definitive stance against the bill, writing in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece that he would not be supporting the bill.
He called for a “strategic pause” on the bill, and exhorted his party to take time to consider the long-term effects of such an expansive piece of legislation before rushing it through Congress. Manchin wrote, “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 concluded the piece with this warning: “At a time of intense political and policy divisions, it would serve us well to remember that members of Congress swear allegiance to this nation and fidelity to its Constitution, not to a political party. By placing a strategic pause on this budgetary proposal, by significantly reducing the size of any possible reconciliation bill to only what America can afford and needs to spend, we can and will build a better and stronger nation for all our families.”
Now, Manchin has come out against the dangers not only of this piece of legislation but of the budget reconciliation process itself.
In a video segment of the Sept. 13 interview on Talkline with Hoppy Kercheval that Manchin posted to Twitter, he discussed why he found the process distasteful.
“We’ve already put $5.4 trillion out. And all the money that we have voted on … has all been done overwhelmingly bipartisan,” Manchin said, emphasizing several wide-ranging CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus relief packages.
“So if we can put out $5.4 trillion that we all believed was needed, and vote together on that, how come [the Democratic budget bill] becomes one that has to be shoved down in reconciliation?
“Spending should be done, basically, in a process that we have: going through committees, debating it on the floor,” Manchin said. “When you go to reconciliation there’s very little of that done because you only need the majority party to vote for it.”
Manchin emphasized as well that he has been against the process long before its most current use: “I didn’t vote for the 2017 cuts in taxes that the Trump Administration had come up with at the end. We were working in a bipartisan way up to the end and thought we had a very reasonable approach to what adjustments should be done to keep our country competitive.” After pulling out the budget reconciliation process, Manchin noted, Republicans “went way too far.”
Turning to a more recent example of bipartisanship, the infrastructure bill supported by 19 Senate Republicans, Manchin emphasized its importance in comparison to Democrats’ spending package.
“The most emergent need we have right now is for the House to pass the bipartisan hard infrastructure [bill],” Manchin explained. The package, he continued, “the roads, the bridges, water, sewers, internet—all the things that have gone unattended for 30 years. The deferred maintenance is unreal.”
Manchin wrote on Twitter, “Any further spending [beyond the infrastructure bill] should not be rushed [and] should be considered on a bipartisan basis.”