President Biden expressed optimism Tuesday that he can come to an understanding with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on the massive $3.5 trillion spending plan, even as a new report suggested Manchin would not support more than $1.5 trillion in new spending.
Returning to the White House from a visit to New York and New Jersey to survey damage wrought by the remnants of Hurricane Ida, Biden was asked by reporters if he had recently spoken with Manchin about his opposition to the current proposal.
“Joe, at the end, has always been there,” Biden said. “He’s always been with me. I think we can work something out. And I look forward to speaking with him.”
However, Axios reported hours after Biden spoke that Manchin has warned both the White House and Democratic leaders in Congress that he has serious concerns about specific aspects of the plan, which would finance programs like universal preschool education as well as subsidized child care and home health care.
In particular, Axios reported, Manchin has taken issue with a proposal to spend $400 billion on home caregivers. The senator has also suggested adding a means test to prove eligibility for other entitlements in the bill — including free community college, universal preschool, child care tax credits and the enhanced childhood tax credit, which gives certain families up to $300 per child per month.
Though the Senate can pass the spending plan with just 51 votes due to the parliamentary procedure of reconciliation, the 50-50 split in the chamber means that Democrats cannot afford to lose a single vote from their conference.
Both Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have gone on record as saying they would not support a $3.5 trillion spending bill, with Manchin writing in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece last week that his Democratic colleagues should take “a strategic pause” in order to discern the true impact of rising inflation and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“Establishing an artificial $3.5 trillion spending number and then reverse-engineering the partisan social priorities that should be funded isn’t how you make good policy,” Manchin wrote. “Undoubtedly some will argue that bold social-policy action must be taken now. While I share the belief that we should help those who need it the most, we must also be honest about the present economic reality.”
One Democratic source quoted by Axios Tuesday night described the process of writing the larger spending bill as a prolonged negotiation.
“[Sen. Bernie] Sanders [I-Vt.] wanted a large number and Manchin wants a smaller number and we’re going to work this process to try to reach common ground,” the source said. “There is a wide spectrum of opinions in the Democratic caucuses, and plenty of negotiation will take place. But we will continue to get this done, finding common ground.”
The Senate passed a bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure measure last month, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), has held up consideration of that bill until the reconciliation package passes the Senate, though she has also promised moderate members of her conference that a vote on the smaller legislation will come by Sept. 27.
Earlier Tuesday, Biden used the deadly flooding caused by last week’s storm to push both pieces of legislation
“One in every three Americans has been victimized by severe weather,” Biden said at an event in Queens, where he was accompanied by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), “I’m working in Congress to pass two important pieces of legislation that this man here [Schumer] is honchoing through the Congress.”
On Tuesday evening, the president told reporters at the White House that he was “comfortable with proceeding the way we’re proceeding so far.”
Top Democrats hope to have the larger spending legislation finalized by the middle of next week.