Manchin demands infrastructure vote; holds off support on spending bill

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US Senator Joe Manchin, D-WV, looks on during a press conference as he talks about his position on US President Joe Bidens sweeping economic agenda on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on November 1, 2021. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on Monday demanded that the House take up the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill immediately while making it clear he’s not yet ready to support a separate social and climate spending bill. 

Manchin, who called a press conference at the Capitol on Monday, railed against House progressives, accusing them of holding the infrastructure bill, which he helped negotiate, “hostage” and warned that the tactics won’t force him to commit to the separate $1.75 trillion spending bill before he is ready. 

“The political games have to stop,” Manchin said. “Holding this bill hostage is not going to work in getting my support for the reconciliation bill.” 

Manchin’s comments come after the House failed to have a vote last week on the Senate-passed infrastructure bill — again — amid pushback from progressives, who believe that it needs to be moved with the reconciliation package that is expected to carry new funding for healthcare, education, childcare and other priorities. 

It marked the second time that House leadership had canceled plans to hold a vote on the bill amid progressive pushback, and the decision to yank the bill came hours after President Biden tried to rally the House Democratic caucus.  

Manchin’s comments come after the House failed to have a vote last week on the Senate-passed infrastructure bill — again — amid pushback from progressives, who believe that it needs to be moved with the reconciliation package that is expected to carry new funding for health care, education, childcare and other priorities.

It marked the second time that House leadership had canceled plans to hold a vote on the bill amid progressive pushback, and the decision to yank the bill came hours after President Biden tried to rally the House Democratic caucus.  

“I’ve never seen anything like this. The President of the United States has addressed the House Democratic caucus twice to urge action on the bipartisan infrastructure bill. … And still no action. In my view,  this is not how the United States Congress should operate,” said Manchin, who helped negotiate the bipartisan bill.

Manchin’s comments on Monday are likely the polar opposite of what progressives were hoping to hear from their moderate colleague. Progressives want a commitment from Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) on the contents of the spending package. 

Progressives appeared increasingly optimistic before Manchin’s press conference that behind-the-scenes negotiations were moving in their direction, allowing House Democrats to bring the spending bill and the infrastructure vote up on the floor as soon as this week.

And Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) told CNN after Manchin’s press conference that she was going to “trust” that Biden could get 51 votes.

“The president says he can get 51 votes for the bill, we are going to trust him … We’re tired of continuing to wait for one or two people,” she said.

A spokesperson for Jayapal didn’t immediately respond to a request to questions about Manchin’s statement. 

“We are now awaiting negotiations among senators on Rx drug pricing & child care & some details on immigration. But the progressive caucus, assuming good resolution of those issues from the Senate side … will be excited to vote for both bills,” Jayapal said earlier on MSNBC. 

Manchin made it clear that he’s not yet ready to back the spending bill and warned Democrats against rushing before they know the costs of the bill. 

“I’m open to supporting a final bill that helps move our country forward. But I’m equally open to voting against a bill that hurts our country,” Manchin said. 

If House Democrats bring the bill up for a vote this week that would likely bring it to the floor without a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score. But Manchin appeared to warn against that, arguing that Democrats need to “allow time for complete transparency and analysis” of the legislation. 

“I have been straightforward about my concerns that I will not support a reconciliation package that expands social programs and irresponsibly adds to our nearly $29 trillion in national debt that no one else seems to care about. … Nor will I support a package that risks hurting American families suffering from historic inflation,” Manchin said. 

“I will not support a bill that is this consequential without thoroughly understanding the impact it will have on our national debt, our economy and most importantly all of our American people,” Manchin added. 

Manchin’s press conference on Monday, during which he took no questions, comes after the senator sidestepped saying last week whether he could support the framework released by the White House for a $1.75 trillion bill, though he suggested on Thursday that he was OK with the top-line figure. 

However, the senator on Monday appeared to take issue with the framework, saying that he found “shell games and budget gimmicks that make the real cost of this so-called ‘$1.75 trillion dollar’ bill estimated to be almost twice that amount.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the framework meets Manchin’s concerns about the economic impact.

“Senator Manchin says he is prepared to support a Build Back Better plan that combats inflation, is fiscally responsible, and will create jobs. The plan the House is finalizing meets those tests—it is fully paid for, will reduce the deficit, and brings down costs for health care, child care, elder care, and housing,” she said.

“As a result, we remain confident that the plan will gain Senator Manchin’s support,” she added.

Manchin has previously estimated that a $3.5 trillion bill could cost substantially more because he expected that once lawmakers create new social programs future Congresses will extend them.

“That is a recipe for economic crisis. None of us should ever misrepresent to the American people what the real cost of legislation is,” Manchin said Monday.

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