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Manchin Shows First Crack in Democratic Front on Debt Limit

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Joe Manchin III said Tuesday that Democrats should negotiate a debt deal as part of the debt limit increase — a break from Democratic leaders and President Barack Obama.

The West Virginia Democrat said he personally is “looking for a bigger plan” to reduce the debt as part of the discussion to authorize payment of the government’s bills.

Manchin talked to a group of reporters before Democrats’ weekly luncheon Tuesday and said he supports using the debt limit debate as a vehicle to attach deficit reduction, such as the Bowles-Simpson plan. He also said he had not heard of any plans to move forward with a clean debt limit bill, despite Democratic leaders and the president repeatedly vowing not to negotiate any concessions to the GOP under threat of a default. Manchin would not say whether this meant he would join the GOP in filibustering debate over a straight-up extension of the debt limit that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., planned to introduce Tuesday.

“I’m looking for a bigger plan. … I’m worried about my children and grandchildren and it seems like here all we’re worried about is how we get to our next crisis,” Manchin said. “People may be talking about no negotiation. You’ve got to negotiate. That’s what we’re here to do.”

When pressed on whether he thought it was a “mistake” for Reid to push forward with a clean debt limit bill, which could be voted on as early as this week, Manchin would not say.

“I’m not going to say what is going to be a mistake, [but] I’ve never seen anything that’s been a big hit around here,” Manchin said.

After Tuesday’s lunch, the West Virginia Democrat did not clarify or change his position, though Democrats did discuss a clean debt ceiling bill strategy Manchin claimed to have never heard of previously.

Democratic leadership aides have said they believe their bosses can hold all 54 members of their caucus on a procedural vote to consider the clean debt limit bill, just like they did in repeated votes on bills from House Republicans leading up to and since the shutdown Oct. 1. And as we reported Monday, several Republicans are poised to break with their party to support opening up debate on the bill to avert a government default.

But Manchin’s comments and the potential actions they belie do not constitute the first problem for leaders from the West Virginian’s outsized and oft-expressed shoot-from-the-hip opinions. And it most likely won’t be the last.

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