Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) says he is still not committed to voting for President Joe Biden’s $1.85 trillion social spending bill after months of negotiations and compromises meant to get the West Virginia Democrat on board with the plan, a troublesome sign for the bill’s prospects as the 2022 midterms draw nearer.
Manchin discussed the bill during The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit on Wednesday. The summit was attended by some senior White House officials, Manchin and other lawmakers, and business leaders representing an array of different industries to discuss America’s current and future economy.
Manchin has in the past voted with Democrats to pass the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion stimulus package meant to address ongoing economic consequences of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a $1.2 trillion package that furnished funding for hard infrastructure.
But after all this spending, Manchin says he is hesitant to commit to voting for another Biden policy priority: the $1.85 trillion Build Back Better Act.
The bill passed the House 220–213 after months of missed deadlines, but the Senate poses a greater challenge.
In the Senate, Democrats hold the thinnest-possible majority: 50 Senate seats plus the vote of Vice President Kamala Harris. But Harris can only use her vote in the event of a tie, which means that all 50 Democrats must be on board with the bill for her vote to count.
And Democrats are far from united behind the monumental spending bill.
Since September, Manchin has advised against quick passage of the bill, which was originally a $3.5 trillion package, saying that it will increase inflation that is already reaching record levels and rising.
After weeks of negotiations at the White House, Democrats unveiled a compromise bill that they hoped would satisfy the West Virginia maverick. But this has not happened: Manchin has continued to advise caution before passing the bill.
Speaking at a Nov. 1 press conference after the White House unveiled the smaller compromise budget, Manchin said: “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.”
Dems Need to ‘Take a Breath’: Manchin
At the CEO Council Summit on Tuesday, Manchin indicated that his view toward the bill has not much changed.
“The unknown we’re facing today is much greater than the need that people believe in this aspirational bill that we’re looking at,” Manchin argued, saying: “We’ve gotta make sure we get this right. We just can’t continue to flood the market, as we’ve done.”
Manchin described the spending of the past year as “good things” but said that “no one is taking a breath” to consider whether more spending will help or hurt the economy.
The social spending package is far from the only thing that Manchin has broken with his party on.
In recent months, Manchin has criticized his party’s claim that inflation is “transitory,” a claim made repeatedly by White House press secretary Jen Psaki and several congressional Democrats.
On Twitter, Manchin wrote: “By all accounts, the threat posed by record inflation to the American people is not ‘transitory’ and is instead getting worse. From the grocery store to the gas pump, Americans know the inflation tax is real and DC can no longer ignore the economic pain Americans feel every day.”
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, a Trump-era appointee that Biden chose to retain as leader of the Fed, has come around to this argument, saying it is “time to retire” the word “transitory” from the inflation narrative.
Manchin has also broken with his party on a slew of climate policies, which receive over half a trillion dollars in funding in the Build Back Better Act.
Most recently, Manchin announced his intention to join Republicans in striking down a controversial Biden-ordered vaccine mandate that would extend into the private sector.
In fact, Manchin has broken with his party so often recently that he spawned rumors that he was considering leaving the Democratic Party. The West Virginia Democrat denied the charge angrily, using an expletive.
And Manchin is not the only possible defector.
A moderate with one of the most conservative voting records in the Senate Democratic caucus, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), has also expressed skepticism toward the bill.
Sinema is staunchly opposed to discussing her views on legislation openly, and her staff has expressed that “[Sinema] does not negotiate through the press.” With her proven track record for stoic silence in the face of media prying, it is hard to know where exactly Sinema stands on the House-passed iteration of the budget bill.
But, like Manchin, Sinema has not given any commitment to vote for the bill.
In any event, Manchin’s continued opposition to the landmark budget bill is a worrisome sign for Democratic leadership as preparations for the 2022 midterm elections begin to get underway.
After campaigning begins in earnest, many Democratic proponents of the bill in the Senate will have significantly less time to devote to getting it passed; If Democrats do not hold onto the House and the Senate, it is all but certain that the legislation will not pass during Biden’s first term.