As President Joe Biden and most congressional Democrats say they won’t negotiate with Republicans on lifting the debt ceiling, at least one party centrist is willing to work across the aisle to get a deal.
Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., said in a Fox Business interview Wednesday from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that he wants to do something bipartisan on the debt limit that would help improve the nation’s debt trajectory, as Republicans are demanding.
Specifically, Manchin said he has talked “briefly” with Speaker Kevin McCarthy about a bill he co-sponsored with Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, in the last Congress to create a “rescue committee” for every endangered government trust fund, like the Social Security, Medicare and highway trust funds.
The Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan research group, named Romney and Manchin as its 2022 Economic Patriot Awards honorees because of their work on the legislation.
The bill, which they have yet to reintroduce in the 118th Congress, would allow the top four congressional leaders to appoint three members each for every rescue committee and give lawmakers on the panels 180 days to come up with policy solutions for solvency.
Any legislation the rescue committees produce would be subject to expedited procedures for floor consideration; it couldn’t be amended but would require 60 Senate votes to advance to final passage.
“We would put different committees — bipartisan, bicameral committees — together to look at each one of the trusts and come up with solutions of how you fix it,” Manchin said in the Fox Business interview. “We’re not getting rid of anything. And you can’t scare the bejesus out of people saying we’re gonna get rid of Social Security, we’re going to privatize. That’s not going to happen. But we should be able to solidify it so the people who have worked and earned it know they’re gonna get it.”
The Senate voted on a version of the Romney-Manchin trust funds bill as a nonbinding amendment to Democrats’ fiscal 2021 budget resolution. That vote was 71-29, with 21 senators who caucus with the Democrats and all 50 Republicans serving at the time supporting it.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, who would be party to any debt limit deal, was among the Democrats who voted against it.
A House version of the Romney-Manchin bill sponsored by Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., last Congress had bipartisan support as well. Texas GOP Rep. Jodey C. Arrington, the new House Budget chair, was among the GOP co-sponsors, most of whom are politically in the center of the Republican Conference.
But some of the more hard-right Republicans agitating for a fight on the debt limit have co-sponsored a different measure that would establish a bipartisan committee to come up with recommended spending reductions.
Rep. Jay Obernolte, R-Calif., reintroduced a resolution to establish a bipartisan House committee to examine federal programs and recommend ones that are nonessential or underperforming and should be eliminated or modified.
The return of Simpson-Bowles?
Manchin cited the 2010 National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform — frequently called the Simpson-Bowles commission after its co-chairs, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson — as a “brave attempt at trying to get our finances under control.”
Their recommendations for deficit reduction included both revenue and spending adjustments, totaling about $4 trillion over a decade, that, among other things, would have restored the long-term solvency of the Social Security trust fund.
“We didn’t do it. That needs to come to a vote also,” Manchin said. “So we could do a hybrid of that.”
But bipartisan opposition — from the left to spending cuts targeting entitlements and other domestic programs, and from the right to tax increases — ultimately sank Simpson-Bowles. And it’s not clear there’s any more political will this year than there was in late 2010 or in 2011, when lawmakers established the unsuccessful “supercommittee” as part of the debt ceiling law to find additional budget savings and revenue.
Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen told lawmakers that the department will be forced to deploy “extraordinary measures” starting Thursday to remain under the $31.4 trillion statutory borrowing cap. Those accounting tools may not last beyond early June, Yellen said, suggesting Congress will need to act by then.
Despite Manchin’s willingness to negotiate with Republicans, whether enough other Democrats are willing to engage in talks on debt ceiling demands is unclear. Most in the party believe the debt ceiling should be raised without conditions since the debt is already incurred and interest payments must be made to prevent bondholders from losing faith in U.S. credit.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre reiterated Wednesday that the Biden administration would not negotiate with congressional leaders over conditions for raising the debt limit. She added that she had no meeting plans to announce with the leaders on the debt limit or any other topic.
Asked about the White House position against negotiating and if he thinks administration officials should sit down with Republicans, Manchin said, “I think they will. I really do.”
Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.