Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) voted Wednesday to advance Democrats’ budget resolution outlining a $3.5 trillion bill that could reshape the economy and define the party’s legacy through monthly checks for parents, paid leave, universal pre-K, a Medicare expansion, and more.
But then, after his vote, Manchin suggested he wouldn’t support the actual bill when it comes up for final approval this fall ― at least not the version that Democrats outlined this week.
“I have serious concerns about the grave consequences facing West Virginians and every American family if Congress decides to spend another $3.5 trillion,” Manchin said in a statement Wednesday.
It’s a quintessential Manchin move. He’s going along with his party, but only in the most grudging way possible. And he wants to make sure everybody knows he’ll work to scale down his colleagues’ most ambitious proposals. Or, at the very least, he hopes to maximize his leverage over the process to get what he wants, like when he withheld support from the American Rescue Plan earlier this year until party leaders agreed to cut some of the bill’s spending on unemployment benefits.
Manchin’s moderation is key to his political identity as a Democrat from a state that voted for Donald Trump by a 20-point margin. Representing such a red state gives Manchin tremendous sway with Democatic leaders, since they have just 50 seats in the Senate and wouldn’t control the 100-seat chamber without him. And they know it.
“I say a prayer every morning and evening for Joe Manchin,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said in May, in response to reporters asking about Manchin tanking the party’s voting rights bill.
Democrats are planning to partially offset the cost of their forthcoming $3.5 trillion package through a mix of higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations, prescription drug reform, and tougher IRS enforcement. How much revenue they ultimately generate will help determine the cost of the actual bill, and thus its chances of passage in both the House and Senate.
In addition to objecting to the overall size, however, Manchin and other Democratic moderates have signaled their opposition to President Joe Biden’s proposed corporate tax increase to 28% from 21%. Manchin supports a hike to 25%. Such demands could whittle down the size of the package.
In his Wednesday statement, Manchin focused on the amount of spending rather than the policies offsetting the cost, saying that more spending could spike inflation and that a higher national debt would burden future generations ― two purely Republican talking points.
“Given the current state of the economic recovery, it is simply irresponsible to continue spending at levels more suited to respond to a Great Depression or Great Recession ― not an economy that is on the verge of overheating,” Manchin said.
The extra spending in the Democrats’ American Rescue Plan may have contributed to rising inflation. It’s also driving down poverty, with new monthly child benefits that are a particular boost to rural areas like West Virginia.
But Manchin’s statement on the budget resolution is as nonbinding as the resolution itself. It included no ultimatum, no specific demand ― unlike with the voting rights bill, which Manchin said he could only support if a Republican joined him.
His position sets up a huge bicameral clash in Congress, one that could derail Biden’s entire legislative agenda. In order to pass the reconciliation bill in the Senate, Democrats will need to shrink its size. Yet in order to pass the bill in the House, they’ll need to keep it as large as possible to satisfy dozens of progressives, who say their vote for the bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill the Senate approved this week is contingent on passage of the subsequent $3.5-trillion package.
“We’ll get it done. I’ll get both,” Biden said Monday, expressing confidence about the two-track process.
Manchin isn’t alone in opposing the $3.5 trillion sum, though. Earlier this month, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona), another moderate, similarly announced she does not support “a bill that costs $3.5 trillion.”
A handful of other moderates, including those up for reelection next year, may feel pressure to join them. But Manchin is the one who seeks the spotlight for his opposition.
The Senate recessed on Wednesday for its summer break and isn’t scheduled to return to Washington until the week of Sept. 13, when committees tasked with writing the reconciliation bill will present legislative text. That means much of the bill ― and its haggling ― will be written remotely and behind closed doors. And Manchin will be a big part of the process.
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