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Manchin renews criticism of Democrats’ $2 trillion economic package, raising fresh obstacles to passage

Democrats need the West Virginia senator’s support and he has raised a host of concerns.

Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia and chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg (Al Drago/Bloomberg)

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) on Tuesday sounded a slew of alarms about his own party’s $2 trillion tax-and-spending package, raising fresh questions about Democrats’ ambitious attempts to adopt the final piece of President Biden’s economic agenda before Christmas.

For Manchin, the package still may be too large in size and scope, it may not be financed it full, it might intensify a recent uptick in prices and it could inflict other harm on the economy. The concerns prompted the pivotal moderate lawmaker to reiterate his call from September to pause the process — though Manchin declined to say if he actually supports or opposes the bill.

“I was concerned then, and I said let’s take a strategic pause,” the senator said at a conference hosted by The Wall Street Journal, adding he “still feel[s] strongly about that.”

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Manchin previously cited the risks of inflation — along with potential geopolitical troubles — as reasons for Democrats to slow down their work. Addressing the matter again Tuesday, he said that the “unknown we’re facing today is much greater than … this aspirational bill we’re looking at.”

Manchin’s comments only appeared to compound the headaches facing Senate Democrats as they labor to adopt a long-stalled, sprawling bill to overhaul to the country’s health care, education, climate, immigration and tax laws. Already, they have retooled their effort considerably to win his support, since Democrats cannot adopt it in the narrowly divided Senate without his help.

But the changes still do not appear to have been enough to secure his endorsement, as he told the WSJ on Tuesday that he could not share his stance because lawmakers “haven’t seen the final text on it.” Manchin’s skepticism nonetheless presented new challenges for Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who reiterated earlier in the day that he hopes to pass the bill by Christmas.

“No one ever said passing a bill of this magnitude would be easy or would be quick, but getting this across the finish line will be worth all the long days and late nights,” Schumer said at a news conference earlier in the day.

“He’s in charge of the calendar,” Manchin said hours later when asked about the timeline.

In the meantime, Manchin reaffirmed his potential issues with the economic package, signaling a tough fight for Democrats still to come.

Pointing to the risks of inflation, for example, the West Virginia moderate stressed lawmakers “can’t continue to flood the market as we’ve done.”

Citing its total price tag, Manchin also questioned its financing.

To lower the total cost of the package, originally set at $3.5 trillion, Democrats had opted to authorize programs only for a limited number of years. But the move in Manchin’s eyes could add to the deficit if lawmakers later looked to make the spending permanent.

“If you intend for that to happen, what’s the real cost? We’re either going to debt finance it … or go back and change the tax code again to try to get the revenue,” he said. “Something’s got to happen.”