Sen. Manchin says he’s not ready to back Biden’s $1.75 trillion budget package

Sen. Joe Manchin has announced he cannot yet support the $1.75 trillion framework for President Biden’s social spending package that congressional Democrats were hoping to push through this week.

“I will not support a bill that is this consequential without thoroughly understanding the impact that it will have on our national debt, our economy and most importantly, all of our American people,” the West Virginia Democrat said during a news conference Monday afternoon.

Manchin cited concerns over inflation and the use of what he described as “budget gimmicks” in the framework, saying the ultimate cost of the package could be twice as large if various programs are extended.

His announcement is a blow to Democrats who wanted to bring to the floor this week a vote on both the bipartisan infrastructure deal and the social spending package, which would fulfill major priorities of the Biden administration.

In response to Manchin’s announcement Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the plan the House is finalizing will meet Manchin’s call for a “fiscally responsible” bill.

“Experts agree: Seventeen Nobel Prize-winning economists have said it will reduce inflation,” she said in a statement. “As a result, we remain confident that the plan will gain Senator Manchin’s support.”

Manchin calls for an infrastructure vote instead

Manchin instead urged House Democrats to pass the Senate-approved bipartisan infrastructure deal on its own. That legislation includes significant investments in roads, bridges, railways and broadband internet.

Congressional Democratic leaders have been trying to pass the social spending package and the infrastructure bill in tandem, to keep progressive members of the conference satisfied.

Progressive lawmakers have long voiced concerns that should the House pass the bipartisan infrastructure deal on its own, more moderate members could back out of the larger social spending package. Democrats are attempting to pass that package through a process called budget reconciliation, which requires every senator who caucuses with the Democrats to be on board.

“There are some House Democrats who say they can’t support this infrastructure package until they get my commitment on the reconciliation legislation. It is time to vote on the [infrastructure] bill, up or down and then go home and explain to your constituents the decision you made,” Manchin said. “Holding this bill hostage is not going to work in getting my support for regular reconciliation bill.”

The moderates’ influence on the process

This isn’t the first time Manchin’s concerns have thrown a wrench into Democrats’ plans.

The initial price tag of the reconciliation package was $3.5 trillion. Manchin made clear he could only support something roughly half that side, prompting Democrats to negotiate ways to whittle down the size and scope of the package in order to make it palatable to Manchin, and fellow centrist Sen. Krysten Sinema.

Biden pitched the framework of the slimmed-down plan to House Democrats in a visit to Capitol Hill last week. The plan still includes universal pre-K, investments in affordable housing, significant investments to address climate change and an additional year of the expanded monthly child tax credit. It no longer includes paid family leave, free community college, and measures to lower the cost of prescription drugs.

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