Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) very public campaign against portions of President Joe Biden’s agenda is vexing his fellow Democrats as they work to draft ambitious legislation that includes monthly payments to parents, universal pre-kindergarten, free community college and paid family leave.
Manchin over the weekend reiterated his stance against a bill totaling $3.5 trillion, vowing in a CNN interview that Democratic leaders “will not have my vote on the 3.5.” The senator cited concerns with the federal debt and inflation as reasons to narrow the size of the package. He declined, however, to outline his preference for the upper spending limit in the bill.
“You’ve got to ask, what would you take out of the package?” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said when asked about Manchin’s position. “Quite frankly, I think it’s critically important that we deal with affordable child care, with affordable higher education, that we deal with paid family and medical leave. There are costs associated with it, but I think the end result to our economy is positive.”
Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Senate Democrat, told reporters he had “no idea” what the bill will ultimately look like given the differences in his caucus. “We have work to do,” the Illinois senator added.
Democrats can’t afford to lose a single vote if they want to pass the bill under a special process known as reconciliation, which allows them to sidestep a filibuster. Manchin and other moderates who agree with him, therefore, hold outsized leverage in the evenly divided Senate. That means whatever comment Manchin makes that can be construed as posing a threat to Biden’s proposals ― whether it be on climate or child care ― becomes instant fodder for reporters to bug lawmakers about in the halls of Congress.
“I can’t just respond to everything Joe Manchin says ― that’s not my job,” a frustrated Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) complained to a group of reporters on Monday.
Heinrich, who advocates including robust funding in the reconciliation bill to deal with the growing problem of climate change, declined to respond when asked about Manchin’s latest comments opposing robust climate change provisions.
In addition to opposing certain climate provisions in the bill, Manchin has expressed unease with its level of spending on care for the elderly as well as monthly benefits for parents. Manchin voted for the American Rescue Plan, which started the payments as a means of relief amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but is now suggesting the program should include work or education requirements.
“Don’t you think, if we’re going to help the children, that the people should make some effort?” Manchin asked in a Sunday interview.
But his colleagues noted that restricting the number of people who would benefit from such programs would hurt Manchin’s own constituents in one of the nation’s poorest states.
“All the stuff we’re talking about affects West Virginia as much, maybe more, than my state of Connecticut. I hope that’s something that will be meaningful to him,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told HuffPost.
Democrats are proposing to keep the monthly payments going through 2025 as part of their reconciliation package. It’s unclear, however, if the program will continue in its current form with moderates like Manchin insisting on changes.
“My own personal view is that would be counterproductive to the children who need help the most,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said when asked about adding work requirements to the family benefit programs.
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