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Citing his ‘leverage,’ Manchin says White House tax plan must change

Republicans, liberals and now centrist Democrats have all picked apart elements of Biden’s $2 trillion proposal

Sen. Joe Manchin III says he would vote against President Biden’s proposal to raise the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
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Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) said on Monday he opposes a key part of the White House infrastructure plan, as early objections across the political aisle threatened to cloud the fate of the $2 trillion proposal.

Speaking on a West Virginia radio station, Manchin said he would vote against President Biden’s proposal to raise the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent, instead saying the rate should be set at 25 percent. Even if all other Democrats support the plan, Manchin’s opposition would likely be enough to kill it because the Senate is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans.

President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax law lowered the rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. Manchin said that numerous other Senate Democrats supported his position and that the bill’s tax provisions would have to be changed to be approved.

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“The bill, basically, is not going to end up that way,” Manchin said on Monday. “If I don’t vote to get on it, it’s not going anywhere. So we’re going to have some leverage here. And it’s more than just me. … There’s six or seven other Democrats that feel very strongly about this.”

Manchin’s criticisms come as Biden’s major domestic legislative priority takes on a bevy of attacks that threaten to complicate its path to passage. The proposal was introduced last week and has been panned by Republicans for significantly raising corporate tax rates and denounced by some liberals as insufficient for the scale of the problem posed by climate change.

Democrats also hold a narrow majority in the House of Representatives and can’t afford even modest defections there if they want any package to pass.

Senate Democrats could try to approve the tax change measure through budget reconciliation — the parliamentary procedure that allows them to pass legislation with a narrow majority. But a defection from Manchin or any other single Democrat could sink the measure. Objections from other centrist Democrats emerged on Monday, as well, with Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) telling reporters he had expressed unspecified concerns to the White House about the measure.

Biden’s plan calls for devoting more than $600 billion to rebuilding roads, bridges, highways and other physical infrastructure; $400 billion for funding caregiver programs; more than $200 billion to retrofit and rebuild homes; and hundreds of billions for measures such as high-speed broadband, replacing the nation’s lead pipes and investing in the electrical grid.

“As the grumbling from Democrats gets louder, it only reiterates this is going to be really tough to do. Not impossible, but really tough to do,” said Jim Manley, who served as an aide to former Senate majority leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.).

Senate parliamentarian opens door for Democrats to pass more bills with 51 votes

The White House has been adamant that Congress approve a major infrastructure and jobs package, while leaving many of the details open to negotiations. On Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration’s proposal to raise the corporate tax rate to 28 percent is a critical element toward paying for the “totality of the package” for the infrastructure overhaul.

She said the increase, if implemented, still would set corporate taxes at a lower rate than they were before the 2017 tax cuts implemented under Trump. But Psaki added that the White House is open to negotiating the details further with congressional leaders.

Republican opposition, however, continued to intensify. In an early sign of the gulf between the two parties, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) told “Fox News Sunday” this weekend that he believes Biden should dramatically scale back his $2 trillion infrastructure plan to a proposal just north of $600 billion. The new package would focus only on core infrastructure elements such as roads, bridges and ports, he said.

But the White House appeared to resist that idea, with Psaki on Monday telling reporters at her press briefing that Republicans have a different “definition” for what qualifies as infrastructure — a category that she said included fixes to the country’s inner workings and proposals to aid the American workforce.

Rejecting a bipartisan deal would put further pressure on a Democratic caucus rife with internal divisions. Democrats swiftly united to approve a $1.9 trillion relief package in March, but the roadblocks toward approving the infrastructure plan could be significantly larger. The coronavirus pandemic put pressure on lawmakers to act, and Democrats agreed on the need to meet a March 14 deadline to approve aid before unemployment benefits for millions were set to expire. No similarly imminent deadline looms over the infrastructure negotiations.