Manchin not ready to back $1.75T budget package

Says ‘gimmicks’ in bill hide the real cost; impact on economy, inflation uncertain

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said at a news conference that the smaller budget bill needed more analysis before he would endorse it.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said at a news conference that the smaller budget bill needed more analysis before he would endorse it. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted November 1, 2021 at 2:15pm, Updated at 3:19pm

Sen. Joe Manchin III pleaded Monday for more time to consider a $1.75 trillion budget reconciliation bill, saying he could not support the sweeping measure until its impact was fully analyzed.

Decrying “budget gimmicks” in the bill, the West Virginia Democrat said the full price tag could be double the advertised cost if the proposed programs were extended.

“That is why we must allow time for complete transparency and analysis on the impact of changes to our tax code and energy and climate policies to ensure that our country is well-positioned to remain the superpower of the world,” Manchin said at a news conference.

Manchin also urged speedy passage of a bipartisan infrastructure bill that would provide $550 billion in new money for public works projects. Progressives have refused to vote for that measure unless it moves in tandem with the reconciliation bill.

“Holding this bill hostage is not going to work in getting my support for the reconciliation bill,” Manchin said.

The public objections voiced by Manchin, one of two key Senate Democratic holdouts on the reconciliation package, threatened to derail plans by House leaders for a speedy vote this week on a bill designed to fund much of President Joe Biden’s economic agenda. Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema last week released a statement calling the initial outlines of the package “significant progress” but declined to offer her endorsement.

Manchin’s plea for more time came after negotiators whittled down the size of what was once a $3.5 trillion-plus package to expand the social safety net and combat climate change. The revised price tag of $1.75 trillion over 10 years came close to Manchin’s topline figure of $1.5 trillion.

But many Democrats expressed disappointment at all the cuts made in recent weeks and worked over the weekend to expand the package again, at least modestly.

Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders said Sunday he was working to restore a provision to let Medicare negotiate drug prices with manufacturers — a move that could reap savings to fund other programs. He also said he was hoping to revive a plan to expand Medicare to offer dental and vision benefits.

Manchin has expressed concern about any Medicare expansion, saying its costs shouldn’t be increased at a time when the program’s hospital insurance trust fund is slated to become insolvent by 2026. Other Democrats countered that any proposed new benefits would be fully paid for and would not affect the trust fund’s solvency.

“How can I in good conscience vote for a bill that proposes massive expansion of social programs when programs like Social Security and Medicare face insolvency, and benefits can start being reduced as soon as 2026 in Medicare and 2033 in Social Security?” Manchin asked. “How does that make sense?”

‘Shell games’

While he strived for a “middle ground” that would reverse some of the tax cuts from the 2017 GOP overhaul enacted during the Trump administration, Manchin expressed discomfort with the details of the latest package.

“What I see are shell games, budget gimmicks that make the real cost of the so-called $1.75 trillion bill estimated to be almost twice that amount, if the full time has run out,” he said. “This is a recipe for economic crisis.”

Part of the problem with estimating the cost is that the Congressional Budget Office hasn’t issued a formal “score” of the measure’s deficit impact, which is difficult without knowing what the final package will look like.

Sen. Brian Schatz pointed out that the timeline may not have shifted all that significantly, given that the CBO would have to weigh in before the Senate takes up the reconciliation bill in order to comply with budget rules.

“We need a CBO score anyway, in order to process the bill through the Parliamentarian on the Senate side,” the Hawaii Democrat tweeted. “None of what was said was exactly new. The tone alarmed people, but substantively nothing has changed.”

The White House and a top House Democratic progressive weren’t immediately alarmed by Manchin’s comments. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement that Biden shares Manchin’s goals of ensuring the package is fully paid for and won’t spark faster inflation. “As a result, we remain confident that the plan will gain Sen. Manchin’s support,” she said.

Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said the House’s timeline hasn’t changed despite Manchin’s comments. Jayapal told CNN on Monday that progressives would be ready to vote for both bills as soon as this week once a few areas of negotiation are wrapped up, including on prescription drug pricing, immigration and child care provisions.

“We are tired of … continuing to wait for one or two people,” Jayapal said. “We trust the president that he will get 51 votes for this and we will pass both bills through the House as soon as we have these final negotiations wrapped up.”

The House Rules Committee was expected to consider parameters for floor debate on the reconciliation bill as soon as the final tweaks are worked out. That was expected to be Monday initially. However, over the weekend Democratic leaders said more work needed to be done, but before Manchin spoke, they still hoped for a vote this week.

In an interview Monday, House Rules Chairman Jim McGovern expressed some impatience with Manchin.

“Maybe Joe Manchin should stop giving press conferences and actually sit down and try to work things out. That might be a way to get us to the finish line quicker,” the Massachusetts Democrat said.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a statement later Monday cited “continued progress” in negotiations between the two chambers and the White House, without committing to vote by a date certain. She also pushed back against Manchin’s inflation concerns, pointing to comments from Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen and others that the measure’s health care, child care and other provisions will prove “anti-inflationary” by lowering costs for families.

For his part, Sanders pointed out to reporters on Monday that the CBO estimated the infrastructure bill Manchin helped write would add $256 billion to deficits over a decade. “If there’s anybody in the Democratic Caucus or elsewhere that’s worried about fiscal responsibility and the deficit, the fact is … it’s not paid for,” Sanders said, while predicting that the reconciliation bill would be fully offset.

Climate concerns

Climate provisions represent another area of concern for Manchin.

During weeks of negotiations, Manchin, whose home state is a major coal and gas producer, has worked to fend off provisions to address climate change that he said would hurt the fossil fuel industries. As a result of his previous objections, negotiators scrapped a $150 billion Clean Electricity Performance Program designed to reward utilities that transition away from fossil fuels and penalize those that don’t.

But the bill still contains a fee on emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, among other new and increased fees on oil and gas companies.

Top Democrats spent the weekend negotiating last-minute changes to the bill and House leaders have been planning on bringing the package to a vote this week, along with a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Sanders said Sunday that the House shouldn’t vote until it was clear what the final package would contain and that 50 senators are on board.

But Manchin used his brief news conference in part to call for the infrastructure bill, which already passed the Senate, to be cleared by the House without delay.

“Enough is enough,” he said. “It’s time our elected leaders in Washington, all of us, stop playing games with the needs of the American people in holding a critical infrastructure bill hostage.”

Lindsey McPherson, Niels Lesniewski and Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.