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Manchin: "Hard no" to $3.5T bill -- and maybe to any reconciliation spending

“We’ve already put out $5.4 trillion,” Joe Manchin told CNN’s Dana Bash on yesterday’s State of the Union. Maybe — just maybe — we should wait for us to actually spend the money Congress has already appropriated before spending any more. As Manchin points out, much of that won’t get spent until the end of next year.

“What’s the urgency,” Manchin wondered, to go out and spend more? The urgency is largely political, but Manchin refrains from saying that out loud. Instead of appropriating more money, Manchin wants to get the bipartisan infrastructure bill through Congress, and then take a “pause” on everything else:

MANCHIN: And that’s fine. He can. He will not have my vote on 3.5. And Chuck knows that. And we have talked about this. We have already put out $5.4 trillion. And we have tried to help Americans in every way we possibly can. And a lot of the help that we put out there is still there, and it’s going to run clear until next year, 2022.

What’s the urgency? What’s the urgency that we have? It’s not the same urgency that we have with the American Rescue Plan. We got that out the door quick. Yes, it was about $2 billion — $2 trillion, and on top of that, all the things we have got with the CARES package, everything leading up to that. So, we have done an awful lot. And there’s still an awful lot of people that need help. But you have 11 million jobs that aren’t filled right now. Eight million people are still unemployed. Something’s not matching up.

Don’t you think we ought to hit the pause and find out? The vulnerability that we have, Dana, right now, we don’t know what is happening with this COVID. It’s awful, coming back the way it is with a vengeance. And we don’t know about inflation. We know it’s running rampant right now. I can tell you, in West Virginia, inflation’s running rampant, and, on top of that, the challenges we’re going to have, geopolitical challenges. Shouldn’t we be prepared?

Bash tried mightily to pin Manchin down to a ceiling on the reconciliation bill, but Manchin proved slippery on that point. He appears to be keying his calculations on the supposed losses from the 2017 tax-reform bill also passed through reconciliation that Manchin argues left the poor behind. On that basis, Manchin suggests somewhere between $1-1.5 trillion, but again, wants to wait to see the impacts of the spending that has yet to take place:

BASH: And I’m — again, I want to get to that, but just because this is — this is the thing that people consume. Do you have a ceiling? (CROSSTALK)

MANCHIN: I — my ceiling is this, the need of the American people, and for us to basically take in consideration inflation. No one’s concerning about the debt. Our debt as of Friday was 28.7 trillion? And we’re not even talking about that. No one is talking about that.

BASH: So, 1 — you just said 1.5. It sounds like $1.5 trillion is your number?

MANCHIN: I’m just saying that, basically — well, I have looked at numbers. If we have a competitive tax code from a noncompetitive, doesn’t help the working person that was done in 2017, that’s in the 1, 1.5 range, OK? If that’s where it is, shouldn’t you be looking at, what does it take now to meet the urgent needs that we have that we haven’t already met? …

The bottom line is, do we have the urgency to spend another $3.5 trillion right now? The most urgent thing that we have to do is get the bipartisan infrastructure bill that’s gone left unattended for over 30 years, deferred maintenance throughout every part of our nation. That’s the one. The president went out and campaigned on that. That’s his bill. We worked it in a bipartisan way, got 19 Republicans to vote for it. That’s the bill that should go out immediately.

But is Manchin willing to be the only Senate Democrat to torpedo the reconciliation bill? Chuck Todd asked that question on NBC’s Meet the Press, and Manchin pointedly replied that he won’t be the only one (via Townhall):

CHUCK TODD: Are you going to be the lone vote against President Biden’s agenda?

SEN. JOE MANCHIN: Well, I don’t think that I am the lone vote. And I think you know that too.

CHUCK TODD: Right. But would you be willing to be the lone vote?

SEN. JOE MANCHIN: I’ve said this. If I can’t go home and explain it, I can’t vote for it, okay —

CHUCK TODD: And right now, you don’t think you can explain it?

SEN. JOE MANCHIN: I can’t explain what we’re doing now.

Who can? As Manchin puts it, we’re spending huge tranches of money so fast that no one can be certain whether it’s working or not, or where the money is going. Inflation has begun to accelerate, and meanwhile Congress has no particular interest in overseeing the impacts of its spree. For instance, Congress only just discovered that the tens of billions it appropriated to cover its eviction moratoria have gone almost entirely unspent even after a year.

How does one explain that? Especially to the renters and the landlords that Congress and the CDC left twisting in the wind?

Democrats can’t explain it, nor can they explain their strategy to go forward anyway on the $3.5 trillion bill without Manchin’s support, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi will try forcing it down everyone’s throats this week, but Manchin’s not the only one objecting to the bill or that approach:

Democratic leaders are vowing to plow forward: They have a soft deadline on Wednesday for roughly a dozen Senate committees to finish drafting parts of the bill, and want to pass the $3.5 trillion spending plan in the House by the end of the month.

But they face a number of sticking points, including over the total cost of the package, and how to pay for it.

“At the end of the day there will be 50 votes, but I think we’re going to go through a very healthy, loud family discussion at times,” said Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who described Democrats as “marking out their territory right now.” …

But there’s skepticism from lawmakers and aides that they’ll be able to hit an end-of-the-month mark. And Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) knocked Democratic leadership during a Ways & Means hearing, calling the Sept. 15 deadline “artificial.”

“I don’t think it is asking too much to want to see this bill in its entirety before voting on any part of it,” Murphy said of the $3.5 trillion package, adding that lawmakers “need more time.”

What is the rush, anyway? As Manchin said, we already have $5.4 trillion in off-budget spending appropriated by Congress since March 2020. Congress has another $1.2 trillion in the bipartisan infrastructure package waiting for approval in the House. There is no fiscal urgency for another spending tranche at all — only the political urgency of pandering to progressives and to prop up a failing president. That’s not worth 3.5¢, let along $3.5 trillion.