Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) on Monday called on Democrats to slow down in their work to advance a $1.75 trillion plan to overhaul the country’s health care, education, climate and tax laws, raising new doubts about the party’s timeline to advance a critical piece of President Biden’s economic agenda as soon as this week.
Speaking to reporters, Manchin lamented some of the “social” spending in the still-forming package, the means by which Democrats have crafted it, and the potential that it could add to the deficit while spurring new inflation. He called for more time to evaluate its broader fiscal effects.
“I will not support a bill that is this consequential without thoroughly understanding the impact it will have on our national debt, our economy and the American people,” Manchin said. “Every elected representative needs to know what they are voting for and the impact it has, not only on their constituents, but the entire country.”
“I’m open to supporting a final bill that helps move our country forward,” the senator added. “But I’m equally open to voting against a bill that hurts our country.”
In making his remarks, Manchin also rebuked liberal House Democrats who have refused to vote on a parallel measure to improve the nation’s roads, bridges, pipes, ports and Internet connections. These left-leaning lawmakers, represented by the powerful Congressional Progressive Caucus, have held up the infrastructure plan in the hopes of securing Manchin’s firm commitment on their other spending priorities — a strategy that the senator chastised on Monday.
“Holding this bill hostage is not going to work,” he said, urging an immediate vote on the $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan.
Manchin’s statement immediately generated new uncertainty about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s plan to hold a vote this week on both of Biden’s long-sought economic packages. Liberal lawmakers have held firm in insisting that the chamber must vote on both bills in tandem, a position that some maintained despite the senator’s stern criticism.
“We intend to pass both bills in the next couple of days,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said during an interview Monday on CNN.
Reacting to Manchin’s allegation that liberals had held the infrastructure bill “hostage,” Jayapal dismissed the critiques, urged lawmakers to “keep tempers down” and stressed that Democrats should trust that the president can ultimately deliver the 51 votes necessary to pass it in the Senate.
“Pramila Jayapal is right,” Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, added in a tweet shortly after her interview ended on CNN. “Let’s vote these two bills out of the House this week.”
The White House, meanwhile, saw in Manchin’s comments a cause for optimism. In her own statement, press secretary Jen Psaki said that the $1.75 trillion bill meets the senator’s criteria to combat inflation, create jobs and cover its costs in full.
“As a result, we remain confident that the plan will gain Senator Manchin’s support,” Psaki said.
The messy political wrangling came less than a week after Biden scaled back his original spending ambitions in a bid to win over skeptical moderates, including Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who had opposed the price tag and policy scope of Democrats’ earlier endeavor.
With the president’s backing, Democrats initially had hoped to spend as much as $3.5 trillion to expand Medicare, authorize universal free prekindergarten, and offer a bevy of new social safety-net programs, largely financed through tax increases. But they whittled down their agenda considerably after Manchin publicly signaled he supported a package only at about half that size.
To rally his party — and smooth over its internal schisms — Biden unfurled the scaled-back version at a private meeting with House Democrats on Thursday where he urged them to take swift action. Exiting the gathering, the party’s warring moderates and liberals generally seemed open to the new proposal, which Jayapal later said had earned the support of a majority of her caucus.
But the House ultimately missed another opportunity by week’s end to hold a vote on his agenda, marking the latest setback. And some lawmakers remained troubled at the relative silence from the Senate’s two moderate holdouts, including Manchin, who offered virtually no comment on the $1.75 trillion plan until Monday.
Despite Manchin’s criticism, Democrats say the package is financed in full, and they stress that a recent uptick in prices is a spillover effect from the pandemic — not a longer-term economic problem that their new spending package would intensify. Still, the senator from West Virginia signaled anew that he needed to see more data before he could make a decision.
“As more of the real details outlined in the basic framework are released, what I see are shell games and budget gimmicks that make the real cost of this so-called ‘$1.75 trillion dollar’ bill estimated to be twice as high if the programs are extended or made permanent,” Manchin said at his news conference, where he ultimately took no questions.
“While I have worked hard to find a path to compromise, it is obvious compromise is not good enough for some in Congress,” he said, adding: “The political games have to stop.”