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Manchin slams Sanders over opinion piece in W.Va. newspaper urging him to support major spending package

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) has been in a public dispute with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) over the level of proposed government spending. (Michael Reynolds/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

The public dispute between Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) over the size and scope of a multitrillion-dollar spending package escalated Friday after Sanders published an opinion article in Manchin’s home state newspaper urging him to support the landmark Democratic proposal.

Sanders, writing in the Charleston Gazette-Mail, attacked the legislation’s opponents — “every Republican in Congress as well as the drug companies, the insurance companies, the fossil fuel industry and the billionaire class” — as defenders of a status quo “in which the very rich get richer while ordinary Americans continue to struggle to make ends meet.”

The article drew a sharp response from Manchin. “This isn’t the first time an out-of-stater has tried to tell West Virginians what is best for them despite having no relationship to our state,” he said a tweet.

He added that he would not vote for what he termed a “reckless expansion of government programs.” In the evenly-divided Senate, every vote in the Democratic caucus is needed to pass the $3.5 trillion tax-and-spending package.

Sanders, who has long called himself a “democratic socialist,” chairs the Senate Budget Committee and played a key role in crafting the legislation. But, last month, Manchin said he would not vote for the bill at its $3.5 trillion size.

In September, Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) shared their perspectives on a multi-trillion dollar spending package. (Video: The Washington Post)

The debate reflects the tensions between the Democratic Party’s liberal and moderate factions that have held up President Biden’s ambitious domestic agenda. Dubbed the “Build Back Better Plan,” the package aims to reduce community college tuition, cut health insurance premiums, reduce child-care costs for many families and bolster a green economy.

White House looks to scale back its climate initiative after stiff pushback from Manchin

Manchin has positioned himself as a bridge-building dealmaker who is involved in virtually every hot-button negotiation. Left-leaning Democrats also have been watching Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), another holdout, with exasperation. Sinema, who has previously allied with Republicans on tax cuts, has been harder to read.

In recent weeks, Sanders and Manchin have exchanged increasingly sharp words over the proposed spending package.

“Sen. Manchin has been extremely critical of the $3.5 trillion proposal that many of us support,” Sanders told reporters last week. “The time is long overdue for him to tell us with specificity — not generalities, but beyond generalities, with specificity — what he wants and what he does not want, and to explain that to the people of West Virginia and America.”

Manchin has highlighted his opposition to the current form of the Clean Electricity Performance Program — which would reward utility companies that generate more clean energy and penalize those that do not, The Washington Post previously reported.

In 2019, West Virginia was the nation’s second-largest producer of coal, after Wyoming, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The White House has expressed its intent to compromise on the economic package.

“I’m convinced we’re going to get it done. We’re not going to get $3.5 trillion. We’ll get less than that, but we’re going to get it,” Biden said during a visit to a child-care center in Connecticut on Friday.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on the “Pod Save America” podcast that the disagreements reflected “democracy working.”

“When it comes down to it, no bill is perfect,” she said. “It’s not going to be everything that Joe Biden wants; it’s not going to be everything Joe Manchin wants.”

“It’s ultimately a compromise,” she said.