Manchin says he’d support $1.5 trillion in Democratic reconciliation bill

Washington — Senator Joe Manchin publicly clarified how much spending he would be willing to support in a Democratic reconciliation bill, saying his top-line number is and has been $1.5 trillion, a figure that is much lower than the $3.5 trillion Democratic leaders and President Biden are seeking. 

Manchin said he thought his position was clear all along internally to his Democratic colleagues, although many Democrats have said they didn’t know his demands. He said he communicated his number to the president in “the last week or so.” The West Virginia Democrat originally proposed his $1.5 trillion in a July document first reported by Politico, and confirmed by Manchin himself Thursday. 

“I brought the $1.5 [trillion], as you’ve seen I think by now, the 1.5 was always done from my heart of basically what we could do and not jeopardize our economy,” he told reporters at the Capitol on Thursday. “I’m willing to sit down and work on that 1.5 to get our priorities, and they can come back and do later, and they can run on the rest of it later. I think there’s many ways to get to where they want to. Just not everything at one time.” 

In the document, Manchin said the corporate tax rate should rise to 25%, the highest income tax rate should be 39.6%, and any revenue exceeding the cost of the bill should help narrow the deficit. 

Manchin also told reporters Thursday means testing and work requirements need to be added to any expansion of the social safety net prescribed in the bill. He also said reforms need to be made to the 2017 tax cuts passed by Republicans to make taxes more fair and equitable. Over the summer, Manchin expressed concern about some of the climate and energy provisions being considered in the package. 

The social spending plan, a key piece of Mr. Biden’s legislative agenda, will require all 50 Democrats to pass, relying on a budgetary process known as reconciliation. In August, House Democrats passed a $3.5 trillion budget resolution that included instructions for Senate committees on draft language for the reconciliation bill. White House advisers Susan Rice and Brian Deese were on Capitol Hill late Thursday huddled with top Democratic policy aides to fine a compromise on reconciliation language that Manchin and Sinema will support. One source familiar with the discussions said the talks are aimed at resolving the impasse between the House and Senate in the coming hours. 

House progressives say they’ll vote against a bipartisan infrastructure bill — which Manchin helped negotiate — that passed the Senate in August. The measure is expected to receive a vote Thursday, and according to the chair of the House Progressive Caucus, a majority of its 96 members will oppose it. Nonetheless, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was confident Thursday morning that when the bipartisan infrastructure bill is brought to the House floor for a vote, it will pass.

“I think we’re in a good place right now. We’re making progress,” Pelosi said. “I can’t stay here too long because I have to deal with step by step with this but I’m only envisioning taking it up, and winning it.”

A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the Democratic leader never agreed to the conditions Manchin gave in the document. 

“As the document notes, leader Schumer never agreed to any of the conditions Sen Manchin laid out; he merely acknowledged where Sen. Manchin was on the subject at the time,” the spokesperson said. “As the document reads, Sen. Manchin did not rule out voting for a reconciliation bill that exceeded the ideas he outlined, and Leader Schumer made clear that he would work to convince Sen. Manchin to support a final reconciliation bill — as he has doing been for weeks.”

Manchin is not the only Senate Democrat who has concerns about the size and scope of the reconciliation package. Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, a key negotiator of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, is also unwilling to support a spending package that totals $3.5 trillion. John LaBombard, Sinema’s spokesperson, said in a statement that Sinema informed Mr. Biden and Schumer of her priorities and concerns, including a dollar amount, in August.

“Like our bipartisan infrastructure bill, the proposed budget reconciliation package reflects a proposal of President Biden’s — and President Biden and his team, along with Senator Schumer and his team, are fully aware of Senator Sinema’s priorities, concerns, and ideas,” LaBombard said in a statement. “While we do not negotiate through the press — because Senator Sinema respects the integrity of those direct negotiations — she continues to engage directly in good-faith discussions with both President Biden and Senator Schumer to find common ground.”

Manchin, who called for a “strategic pause” on the massive social spending proposal this summer, reiterated Thursday that he still thinks that’s the best idea. In other words, he’s in no rush to get it done. Manchin said he is already compromising, coming up from zero dollars to $1.5 trillion. 

“The reason I asked for a pause, I’m still concerned about inflation,” Manchin said.

Asked if he feels responsible for the fact that the bipartisan bill has yet to be voted on in the House, Manchin said he did not. He argued that the bipartisan bill shouldn’t be held “hostage” over the reconciliation bill, a clear reference to progressives in the House who are threatening to sink the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, unless the Senate votes to pass the reconciliation bill first. Manchin said he’d be happy to sit down with those liberals in the House, but he suggested their spending plans simply don’t have enough support. 

“I’ve never been a liberal in any way, shape or form,” Manchin said. “There’s no one that’s ever thought I was. I’ve been governor, I’ve been secretary of state, I’ve been in the state legislature, I’ve been a U.S. senator, and I have voted pretty consistently all my whole life. I don’t fault any of them who believe that they’re much more progressive and much more liberal. God bless them. And all they need to do is we have to elect more, I guess for them to get theirs, elect more liberals. But I’m not asking them to change, I’m willing to come from zero to $1.5 [trillion].” 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said it’s natural that numbers will change as the process continues. 

“The way the president sees it, is that this is an ongoing discussion, an ongoing negotiation,” Psaki said. “Here is what we know. We know that timelines help make progress. We have seen that play out over the course of the last couple of days. We know that compromise is inevitable. We have also seen that play out over the last couple of days.”

— CBS News’ Ed O’Keefe, Weijia Jiang and Zachary Hudak contributed to this report. 

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