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Manchin repeats call for ‘strategic pause’ in big spending package

Schumer wants to pass the reconciliation measure by Christmas

Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., leave the Senate Democrats' lunch in the Capitol on Nov. 16, 2021.
Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., leave the Senate Democrats' lunch in the Capitol on Nov. 16, 2021. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., on Tuesday reiterated his desire for Senate Democrats to slow down consideration of the House-passed $2.2 trillion climate and social spending package. 

Speaking at The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit, Manchin said he still wants Democrats to take the “strategic pause” he called for months ago given “unknowns” in the economy like the COVID-19 pandemic, how long high inflation will last and geopolitical factors.

“My reason for saying that and I still feel strongly about that is the unknown we’re facing today is much greater than the need that people believe [is addressed] in this aspirational bill that we’re looking at,” he said. “And we’ve got to make sure we get this right. We just can’t continue to flood the market as we’ve done.”

Manchin said Democrats need to be “very careful” in their approach to the bill because it would make major changes to the tax code, social spending programs and climate policy. 

“We get any one of those wrong and we’re in trouble,” he said. Manchin said he has different views than most of his colleagues on all three areas but did not detail them. 

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., has repeatedly said his goal is to pass the reconciliation package by Christmas. 

Manchin has not directly disputed that timeline, noting Schumer controls the schedule and will call the vote when he likes. But his vote will be needed to pass the legislation, and he’s not ready to commit to supporting it.

“We haven’t seen the final text on it so for me to speak on it, to say yes I could be for this or no I’m not going to be for that or you need to change this or that — until I see the legislation it’s hard to say that,” he said. 

Manchin said Democrats are trying to do too much through reconciliation and “it was never intended to be used for major policy changes.” He noted that the Senate parliamentarian has begun her review to ensure the package complies with the Byrd rule, which prevents inclusion of provisions that have a budget impact “merely incidental” to the policy changes.  

While Manchin did not detail any new concerns about the bill during the event, he repeated his frustration with the approach the House took in cutting down the package from more than $3.5 trillion to $2.2 trillion. Instead of cutting programs altogether, the House mostly changed the duration of how long they would fund them, with the aspiration they’ll extend most of the programs in the future. 

“Do they not intend for those programs to last the full 10 years? Well if you intend for that to happen, what’s the real cost?” Manchin said, expressing his concerns. “Because we’re either going to debt finance it if we’re not going to pay for it or come back and change the tax code again to try to get the revenue. Something’s got to happen.”

The White House has said that it would propose offsets for any programs it tries to extend in the future. But Manchin indicated one of his other concerns is that whatever programs Democrats approve will be hard to get rid of in the future, if even lawmakers determine they’re no longer needed or effective. 

“Our Republican friends basically, they used Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act, they used that as a whipping boy and beat the living crap out of us in the 2010 election, 2012, 2014 and then in 2016 the dog caught the car. And they couldn’t even get rid of it when they had the presidency, the House and the Senate and couldn’t repeal it,” he said. “So I can tell you, if we keep sending checks, it’s going to be hard to stop the checks.”

Manchin said he’s told his Democratic colleagues that if they’re upset with his positions on the reconciliation package or other legislation, they should “elect more liberals” that share their views. He described himself as “fiscally responsible and socially compassionate,” saying he thinks 60 percent to 80 percent of the American people are the same way.

“I’m not a Washington Democrat,” he said. “But the bottom line is you have to be caucusing somewhere. If they would ask me to leave, I would just have to say I guess we’ll have to abide by your wishes. I don’t know. I don’t think that will happen. I don’t intend to leave.”

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