In a Sept. 2 opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal, Sen. Joe Manchin, a critical Democratic swing vote, came out against his party’s expansive $3.5 trillion budget, calling for a “strategic pause” to consider the legislation’s consequences. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have since criticized Manchin for this position, but are optimistic that the budget will still pass.
Manchin explained his opposition to the bill, writing: “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 continued: “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.”
He also expressed serious concerns about the national debt, 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.”
Manchin said that one “reason to pause” is to “allow for a complete reporting and analysis of the implications a multitrillion-dollar bill will have for this generation and the next.” He said that congressional committees should take time to work out “what we should fund, and what we simply cannot afford.”
In light of these concerns, writes Manchin, “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 is not the only critical Democratic vote that has expressed opposition to the bill. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) stated publicly that she opposed the bill. After the House advanced the resolution in a party-line vote, a spokesman for Sinema said that “Proceedings in the U.S. House will have no impact on Kyrsten’s views about what is best for our country—including the fact that she will not support a budget reconciliation bill that costs $3.5 trillion.”
On Wednesday morning, Schumer indicated that he was little concerned by the moderate senators’ opposition, saying that Democrats “are moving full speed ahead.” He continued: “We want to keep going forward. We think getting this done is so important for the American people.”
“We’re going to all come together to get something big done,” Schumer said. “It’s our intention to have every part of the Biden plan in a big and robust way.”
When Pelosi was asked Tuesday about Manchin’s “strategic pause,” she began “Well obviously I don’t agree.” But the Speaker, like Schumer, was optimistic; “I’m pretty excited about where we are,” said Pelosi.
Pelosi said she was “exhilarated” by the bill’s progress. “What you have to realize,” Pelosi explained, “is that this is ‘build back better with women.'” Pelosi said that the women in her caucus were especially “energized” by the legislation, which she called “transformative for women in the workplace.”
A concern for both Sinema and Manchin has been the price tag of the bill rather than the contents of the bill itself. This has led to speculation that the only way to advance the legislation is to negotiate spending cuts with the moderate holdouts.
When asked how high the spending in the bill could go, Pelosi was noncommittal. She said that $3.5 trillion was the cap on how much would be spent, but did not indicate that she would negotiate a lower figure.
“You’ll have to go below $3.5 trillion, won’t you?” a reporter asked. Pelosi responded curtly “Why?” When the concerns of Manchin and Sinema were brought up, Pelosi told the reporter that he “would have to go talk to the Senate about that.”
At a press conference the next day, Pelosi was asked a similar question and was again hesitant to commit to lowering spending in the bill. “What would you cut?” She asked rhetorically. The bill’s programs like government-funded childcare, paid family leave, and in-home healthcare, are “so important,” she said and recoiled at the thought of cutting any of them.
On Wednesday, Sen. Sanders (I-Vt.), who wrote the original resolution, expressed the same. Originally, Sanders’ resolution called for $6 trillion in spending, and Sanders indicated that he was not willing to go any lower. He said, “That $3.5 trillion is already the result of a major, major compromise.”
The White House is also optimistic about the bill’s chances, even with its moderate opponents. White House chief of staff Ron Klain said Manchin can be convinced to vote in favor of the budget resolution because it’s fully paid for through tax increases on the wealthy and will not add to the national debt.
“I think that’s why he’s very persuadable, because of course, this package adds nothing to the debt, nothing to the debt. It is fully paid for by raising taxes on wealthy people. We’ve had people become billionaires during the pandemic. They should pay their fair share of taxes,” Klain told CNN on Sept. 5.
Masooma Haq contributed to this report.