Yesterday a couple of things happened with regard to the COVID relief bill that Democrats are hoping to pass. First, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Schumer put in place a bill that would allow them to pass the relief bill using reconciliation rules which only require 51 votes for passage. So, at least in theory, they would be able to pass the $1.9 trillion package without any GOP input or support. Pelosi said last week, “I hope we don’t need it. But if we need it, we will have it.”
Then yesterday afternoon, President Biden met with 10 GOP Senators at the White House to discuss the possibility of a bipartisan agreement. The GOP is pushing for a much smaller bill in the range of $600 billion, noting that another $1 trillion COVID bill passed just a few weeks ago. No agreement was reached at the White House meeting yesterday but Sen. Collins, who was leading the GOP group, called it productive.
At the center of all this negotiating is Joe Manchin, the moderate Senate Democrat from West Virginia. Earlier today, Manchin voted with other Democrats to start the reconciliation ball rolling. He released a statement about the decision:
“I will vote to move forward with the budget process because we must address the urgency of the COVID-19 crisis. But let me be clear – and these are words I shared with President Biden – our focus must be targeted on the COVID-19 crisis and Americans who have been most impacted by this pandemic. The President remains hopeful that we can have bipartisan support moving forward. I will only support proposals that will get us through and end the pain of this pandemic. For the sake of the country, we must work together with laser focus to defeat the COVID-19 crisis, support our neighbors and communities who continue to suffer and get back to a more normal life as quickly as possible.”
That made it sound like Sen. Manchin was willing to go forward on a party line vote if Democrats were willing to make the package was more targeted. However, during an interview with Bret Baier this afternoon, Manchin clarified that while he was willing to vote to kickstart reconciliation to speed up the negotiation process, he will not vote for any bill that is not bipartisan.
“If they say, we’re pushing forward with reconciliation…and they come to you and they say ‘Joe, we need that vote’…are you voting for it?” Baier asked.
“What I have told everybody, I made it very clear, from the President of the United States to all of my colleagues, we’re going to make this work in a bipartisan way,” Manchin replied. He added, “My friends on the other side are going to have input and we’re going to do something that we agree on. I’m not going to do it just down the lines, just saying a party line vote…We’ve built too much trust up among each other to allow this to fall apart.”
Baier pushed him a bit: “So that sounds like a no if they try to blow it down the line.”
“We’re not going to blow it down the line. They can’t do it down the line,” Manchin said. He added, “I said fine, we’ll start this process but I want you to know I will vote in a bipartisan way.”
Again, all of this is slightly different than what Manchin said in his statement. If he sticks to it, Democrats are not going to win a party line vote. They are going to have to win over at least a few GOP Senators. Manchin didn’t specify how many. Technically, one GOP vote would make this bipartisan. Is that good enough for him or does he want to see something that is bipartisan enough that reconciliation isn’t needed, meaning at least 10 GOP votes. I guess we’ll see but for the moment it looks like Pelosi and Schumer are not going to be able to ram this through.
Manchin went on to say that he didn’t think there was any situation in which he would vote to remove the filibuster. So this is going to be an ongoing problem for Democrats over the next two years. If they want to get things done they are going to have to compromise rather than play steamroller.