Axios: Manchin draws red line at $1.5 trillion in red ink

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Democrats may have carved out $3.5 trillion in their budget resolution for their second massive spending bill on reconciliation, but they won’t get to spend most of it. According to Axios, Senator Joe Manchin has told the White House that his target for spending is one trillion dollars, with perhaps a cap no higher than $1.5 trillion. That shaves at least two trillion dollars off of Joe Biden’s planned progressive wish list and presents new headaches for both Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi:

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) has privately warned the White House and congressional leaders that he has specific policy concerns with President Biden’s $3.5 trillion social spending dream — and he’ll support as little as $1 trillion of it.

At most, he’s open to supporting $1.5 trillion, sources familiar with the discussions say.
Why it matters: In a 50-50 Senate, that could mean the ceiling for Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda — and that many progressive priorities, from universal preschool to free community college, are in danger of dying this Congress.

Get ready for a flurry of progressive attacks on Manchin in the coming days, which isn’t going to be much of a change for Manchin this year. He’s already been the target of protests and campaigns for his refusal to torpedo the filibuster, which has bottled up most of the progressive agenda. Reconciliation was supposed to be the one path that would allow them to push through a wide range of policies and programs, and if Manchin shuts that down or narrows it to only infrastructure, progressives will be looking for blood.

Biden sounds as though he’s in denial over Manchin’s stand for fiscal discipline … or what passes for it these days:

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.”

It’s not just the overall price tag that spurred Manchin’s objections, however. Manchin also opposes the components in the $3.5 trillion package that is moving through committees in both the House and Senate. Among them are the dynamic scoring used by progressives to claim pay-fors, although I’d bet that static scoring would make it look even sunnier. (Static scoring ignores market effects from higher taxes, which is why Republicans usually opt for dynamic scoring on their tax proposals.)

Some of Manchin’s objections are square on the progressive wish list:

Manchin has voiced concerns about Biden’s plan to spend $400 billion for home caregivers.

He’s also talking about means testing on other key proposals, including extending the enhanced Child Tax Credit, which provides up to an additional $300 per child per month, free community college, universal preschool and child care tax credits.

If all of that and more come out of the proposal, what’s left? Actual infrastructure spending, perhaps, and just a soupçon of hobby-horse agenda items. That won’t motivate progressives to play along, and Republicans aren’t touching the reconciliation bill with a ten-foot pole. Manchin has to know that such a limit would kill the chances for passing anything. Progressives already had to accept the half a loaf in the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Speaking of which, does Manchin’s stance throw passage of that bill into doubt? Pelosi had to accept the adoption of a House rule that requires a floor vote once the budget resolution passes. That doesn’t mean that the House can’t pass another rule to reverse that, though. Pelosi might opt for brinksmanship with Manchin to force him into caving on the follow-on bill, but that might mean that Democrats don’t get anything done this year. And that’s a bad look after the debacle in Afghanistan.

Manchin has to have gamed all of this out, of course. He’s no naïf in Washington DC. One has to wonder whether he’s paying back Republicans for working with him on the first reconciliation bill by torpedoing the bad-faith reconciliation bill that followed it. Even if that’s not his intent, that might be the outcome.