In an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has come out squarely against Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) expansive budget resolution. Manchin’s opposition puts the bill—which President Biden considers an integral part of his “build back better” agenda—in grave danger of failure in the Senate.
The budget resolution advanced to the House just before the Senate left for their August recess, and it is one of the most ambitious and widest-reaching pieces of legislation since the New Deal. Some of its provisions include billions to fund a path to citizenship for millions of illegal aliens, government-paid childcare, pre-K, and community college education, funding for federal housing, and what Sanders called an “extremely aggressive” policy to move the United States away from fossil fuels, among many others. To finance the $3.5 trillion plan, Democrats would raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy to some of the highest levels in the world.
The House met in an emergency session on Aug. 24 to consider the resolution after a weeks-long stalemate between moderate and progressive elements in the lower chamber. To end this stalemate, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) made an impromptu agreement with moderates the morning of the emergency session. That evening, Democrats unanimously voted to advance the resolution to relevant committees to be drafted into legislation.
Now, Democratic leadership in both chambers is in a desperate round-the-clock struggle to finish drafting the legislation in a way that will appeal to both chambers of Congress. Because of continued division in the House, this must be finished before Sept. 27 if the budget bill and Senate-passed infrastructure bill are to get through the House.
To pass through the Senate, Democrats will need to be entirely unified behind the bill to pass it by a thin 51–50 vote.
This unity was first imperiled when Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) stated publicly that she opposed the bill. Regarding moves in the House to advance the resolution, a spokesman for the senator said, “Proceedings in the U.S. House will have no impact on Kyrsten’s views about what is best for our country—including the fact that she will not support a budget reconciliation bill that costs $3.5 trillion.”
Manchin had also expressed concerns about the legislation in interviews and on Twitter but did not come out resolutely against the bill until his op-ed Thursday.
Manchin wrote: “some in Congress have a strange belief there is an infinite supply of money to deal with any current or future crisis, and that spending trillions upon trillions will have no negative consequence for the future. I disagree.”
He criticized the reckless spending of his colleagues, saying that it was creating a new “inflation tax” on all Americans.
He discussed serious concerns about the national debt as well, which has ballooned to well over $28 trillion. Manchin says that now is not the right time for the resolution after the government has already “spent more than $5 trillion responding to the coronavirus pandemic.”
He criticized his colleagues’ nonchalance towards this record-spending: “Now Democratic congressional leaders propose to pass the largest single spending bill in history with no regard to rising inflation, crippling debt or the inevitability of future crises. Ignoring the fiscal consequences of our policy choices will create a disastrous future for the next generation of Americans.”
He explained his reasoning for this, saying that these funds should be held for true emergency situations like a severe mutation of the CCP virus in the future, a financial crisis like the Great Recession, or a major terrorist attack.
“Another reason to pause,” wrote Manchin, is to “allow for a complete reporting and analysis of the implications a multitrillion-dollar bill will have for this generation and the next.” He said that congressional committees should take time to work out “what we should fund, and what we simply cannot afford.”
In light of these concerns, writes Manchin, “I, for one, won’t support a $3.5 trillion bill, or anywhere near that level of additional spending, without greater clarity about why Congress chooses to ignore the serious effects inflation and debt have on existing government programs.”
Manchin concluded the piece with this warning: “At a time of intense political and policy divisions, it would serve us well to remember that members of Congress swear allegiance to this nation and fidelity to its Constitution, not to a political party. By placing a strategic pause on this budgetary proposal, by significantly reducing the size of any possible reconciliation bill to only what America can afford and needs to spend, we can and will build a better and stronger nation for all our families.”
Manchin’s opposition to the legislation puts a serious difficulty before Democratic leaders. Because the legislation is being drafted through the budget reconciliation process, it can avoid a filibuster and be passed by a simple majority.
Democrats just barely have that simple majority, controlling 50 seats plus the vote of the vice president. But without Manchin and Sinema’s full support, the bill will be easily defeated 48–52.
If Democrats hope to pass the legislation, it is now critical that leaders in the party reach an agreement with these two moderates; because of their opposition to the price tag rather than to the contents of the bill, any such agreement would likely involve trillions in spending be cut from the bill—a move that would doubtless anger progressives.
This is not Democrats’ only challenge, as they also prepare for an impending party-line battle over raising the debt ceiling and as Louisiana requests emergency assistance from the federal government to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.
For now, congressional leadership faces an impasse to the president’s ambitious agenda.
Masooma Haq contributed to this report.