Manchin: Sure, I'll support that massive spending bill I said I'd oppose

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

This is some potentially good news for Democrats, though it’s hardly definitive at this point. When Senate Democrats had lunch with President Joe Biden on Wednesday, much of the discussion centered on their 3.5 trillion dollar grab-bag spending bill that was announced earlier this week. They’ve already resigned themselves to the idea that there won’t be a single Republican vote in favor of the measure, so they can’t afford to lose a single Democratic vote. As usual, that means that all eyes are on King Joseph of West Virginia to see if he will derail the entire thing. Manchin took the floor after Biden left the meeting and reportedly told them that he will be “a team player” and not derail the bill, provided he’s kept in the loop as it is being written. But he didn’t go as far as saying he would definitely vote for it, either. (The Hill)

Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), a crucial centrist vote in the Democratic caucus, is signaling to colleagues that won’t derail a $3.5 trillion budget resolution that contains many of President Biden’s legislative priorities.

Senate Democrats say Manchin has indicated he will not stand in the way of the measure moving forward and will be generally supportive as long as he’s kept in the loop on his top concerns: how to pay for the bill and a clean energy provision.

Manchin told colleagues Wednesday where he stood at a caucus luncheon attended by Biden, where Democrats discussed their plans for passing two major infrastructure bills. The West Virginia senator said he waited until Biden left the room to explain his position to fellow Democrats.

Manchin is talking about being a “team player” but he added in a lot of caveats that didn’t show up in the story lede. Reading into the details, all he’s saying at this point is that he won’t try to block a floor vote on allowing the bill to be drafted. That doesn’t mean the finished product will receive his approval. That’s why he is asking to be kept in the loop and for the members working on crafting the bill to keep some of his priorities in mind.

And what are those priorities? He mentioned a few, including a “competitive tax code” and “environmental standards that leave people behind.” He also reminded them that he’s concerned about inflation.

Any of those items could throw a wrench in the works. He seems to be signaling that he’s not going to be up for any sort of major tax hikes, though we still don’t know where he stands on the idea of Elizabeth Warren’s “wealth tax.” His comment about inflation is no doubt related to his recent remarks about how we’ve “already given away enough free money.” So if this bill was going to include another round of checks for everyone, he’ll probably veto that. His remark about environmental standards may be the toughest pill for the Democrats to swallow. They’re all talking about green energy provisions, but Manchin has to take care of the coal miners in his state, so if there’s any sort of major blow to fossil fuels in the bill they could lose Manchin’s vote on that aspect as well.

Manchin also seemed to drop another hint when he said that he didn’t want to cause a roadblock in terms of beginning the process of writing the bill. But he also added, “if we run into a roadblock, we’ll run into one later. But you don’t start out that way.”

Obviously, Joe Manchin can envision scenarios where that roadblock will crop up. And all it would take is one roadblock to send the entire thing down in flames. In other words, Joe Manchin may not be part of the committee that’s going to assemble the bill, but he’s pretty much the one calling all the shots as to what does or doesn’t make the cut. And if they somehow do manage to pass this bloated Democratic wish list, it’s going to meet his requirements. Joe Manchin is still clearly the most powerful person in the Senate at the moment and probably will be until the Democrats either lose their majority or expand it significantly.