Manchin Balks at $3.5 Trillion as Clock Ticks Down for Democratic Leaders

Another week has passed, and the clock has continued to tick down for Democratic leaders hoping to push through a massive social spending and climate bill.

Politico reminds readers that Speaker Pelosi has promised a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill by September 27, but Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) said last week that “nothing would give [her] more pleasure than to tank” the infrastructure bill if the larger spending bill does not also pass. Supporters of bipartisan solutions, meanwhile, argue that Pelosi is still trying to link the two votes in order to create a false all-or-nothing choice — either vote for both bills, or give up on much-needed infrastructure funding.

Said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) on Sunday: “There’s no way we can get this [the reconciliation bill] done by the 27th, if we do our job.” Manchin bluntly said Sunday that he will not back a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill. Progressives have refused to budge from that number, meaning an agreement is all but impossible before September 27.

The Hill says Democratic leaders know $3.5 trillion “is slipping away,” with some party strategists “warning that the size of the human infrastructure bill needs to be substantially curtailed to avoid a political disaster in the 2022 midterm elections.” Manchin said Sunday that he would back $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion for the reconciliation bill. The Washington Post says that number may be too low for House Democratic leaders, but they are “openly acknowledging that the final cost might drop significantly.”

Manchin is simply calling for Congress to slow down and actually look at the spending being proposed. He told NBC, “I’m just saying that we should be looking at everything, and we’re not. And that we don’t have the need to rush into this and get it done within one week because there’s some deadline we’re meeting, or someone’s going to fall through the cracks.”

Most Americans agree. The Washington Times reports that our recent No Labels poll “found that 60% of Americans want Democrats to pump the brakes on President Biden’s $3.5 trillion expansion of the social safety net.” Thomas O’Rourke of the New Center writes, “The $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill…is being advanced through (more or less) traditional legislative means.” Budget reconciliation, on the other hand, has “inexorably led to more rushed, less vetted, and more partisan legislation.”

House Problem Solvers Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) told Axios that the House leadership has remained committed to holding the vote on the infrastructure bill by the 27th. It should do so, and representatives of both parties should pass this essential legislation. Then, Congress can follow Manchin’s advice and hold a real debate on the separate spending measure — with deliberation, without artificial deadlines, and without holding infrastructure hostage.

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