Manchin throws down gauntlet with progressives

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is in the driver’s seat and letting liberal Democrats in the House and Senate know that he plans to set the terms for the budget reconciliation bill that they hope to use to enact President Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda.

Manchin’s announcement Thursday that he won’t support any reconciliation bill costing more than $1.5 trillion served as a rude awakening to Democratic progressives who thought he could support a number much closer to the $3.5 trillion goal set by the Senate- and House-passed budgets.

The timing of his announcement was especially enraging to progressives as it came hours before the House was set to vote on a bipartisan infrastructure bill, which was supposed to be passed in tandem with the reconciliation package as part of Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) two-track strategy.

By declaring that his top-line limit would be $1.5 trillion — a full $2 trillion less than the number he voted for in the Senate budget resolution last month — Manchin made it clear that the reconciliation bill isn’t passing anytime soon.

Manchin further angered his more liberal colleagues by issuing a statement Wednesday dismissing their big spending plans at a time when Social Security and Medicare face funding shortfalls as “the definition of fiscal insanity.”

The reaction from House liberals was angry and immediate.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, accused Manchin along with centrist Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), whom she pointed out represent only “4 percent” of the Senate Democratic Conference, of “blocking the president’s agenda, the Democratic agenda that we ran on.”

Jayapal pledged that she and fellow House progressives would not vote for the $1.1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, which Manchin and Sinema took lead roles in crafting, until the Senate passes a reconciliation bill that satisfies her wing of the party.

Jayapal balked Wednesday at Manchin’s accusation that progressives are guilty of fiscal insanity.

“I assume he’s saying the president is insane because this is the president’s agenda. Look, this is why we’re not voting for the bipartisan [infrastructure] bill until we get agreement on the reconciliation bill and it’s clear we get agreement on the reconciliation bill and we’ve got a ways to go,” she said. “After that statement we probably have even more people willing to vote no on the bipartisan bill.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), another leading House progressive, hit Manchin for being happy to support defense spending increases but not social spending boosts.

“Ever notice how ‘deficit hawks’ vote for record-high defense spending, yet claim bills that help people & challenge lobbyists are ‘too much?’ ” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted in a post that prominently featured a picture of Manchin.

She pointed out that the 2022 defense bill costs $768 billion, while Biden’s agenda would cost $350 billion a year.

“Guess which got rubber stamped & which gets deemed a ‘spending problem,’ ” she wrote.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) hit Manchin for dismissing her spending priorities as fiscal insanity.

“Inaction is insanity. Not willing to negotiate in good faith is insanity. Not fighting to have the critical investments that are needed is insanity. Trying to kill your party’s agenda is insanity,” Omar fumed to reporters.

“Not trying to make sure the president we all worked so hard to elect’s agenda pass[es] is insanity. Losing us the majority in the House and the Senate is insanity,” she added.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Thursday night renewed his call for House liberals to defeat the bipartisan infrastructure bill and criticized the frantic late-night scramble by House Democratic leaders to round up enough votes to pass it.

“It is an absurd way to do business to be negotiating a multitrillion-dollar bill a few minutes before a major vote with virtually nobody knowing what’s going on. That’s unacceptable,” he said. “I think what has got to happen is tonight the bipartisan infrastructure bill must be defeated and we can then sit down, work out a way to pass both pieces of legislation.”

Manchin was greeted with angry chants of “Hey Joe, we had a deal!” as he walked out to a crowd of reporters in front of the Capitol Thursday, but he didn’t seem concerned.

He said he has never been a liberal during his long political career and suggested that progressives settle for what he’s willing to agree to in the reconciliation package and then try to pick up more seats in the 2022 midterm elections in order to pass those priorities he doesn’t share.

“Take whatever we aren’t able to come to agreement with today and take that on the campaign trail next year and I’m sure that they’ll get many more liberal progressive Democrats with what they say they want,” he said.

“For them to get theirs, elect more liberals,” he said, noting “I’ve never been a liberal in any way, shape or form.”

He said he’d be happy to speak to House progressives if they want to meet with him.

But Manchin also said he didn’t want to spend more than $1.5 trillion because he worries about “changing our whole society to an entitlement mentality.”

Manchin appears confident that whatever he eventually agrees to in the reconciliation package, which now appears to headed to a top-line spending number well below $3.5 trillion, the House will eventually pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which would send billions of dollars to his home state.

For instance, the bipartisan infrastructure bill would create a new $2 billion rural grant program that will dedicate resources to the Appalachian Development Highway System, also known as the Robert C. Byrd Freeway, in West Virginia.

Senate Democrats were generally much more restrained than their House liberal counterparts in responding to Manchin’s red line, acknowledging they need his vote and he can always walk away.

“Manchin’s in an amazing position,” remarked one Democratic senator, who requested anonymity to discuss internal caucus dynamics.

The two-track strategy for passing the smaller bipartisan infrastructure bill and the reconciliation bill in tandem rested on the presumption that the threat of defeating the bipartisan bill would give progressives leverage over Manchin and other centrists.

But even if the bipartisan infrastructure bill doesn’t pass this week or this month, most Senate Democrats aren’t even thinking about scrapping it. Instead, they’re predicting they’ll eventually reach agreement on the reconciliation package, even if it’s smaller than what they wanted.

Via The Hill