What a difference a weekend makes.
Three days after publicly sparring over the massive social spending bill being pushed by the Biden administration, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) were all smiles as they stood shoulder-to-shoulder outside the Capitol Monday evening.
“We’re talking,” Manchin said, a statement Sanders repeated. When asked if they would reach agreement on the final form of the bill by this weekend, Sanders again stated: “We’re talking.”
Moments earlier, Sanders told reporters: “I think there is a general feeling that negotiations have been going on for month after month after month, and that it is time that we had — we bought this thing to a head as soon as we possibly can. And I would hope that we’re gonna see some real action in the next — within the next week or so.”
Sanders, a socialist who is chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, has been the driving legislative force behind the tentative $3.5 trillion measure — which includes funding for an array of broad social spending programs.
Manchin, a centrist Democrat, has objected to both the topline spending number and some of the programs that are included in the bill. He has said he would not go above $1.5 trillion, although indicated he could settle somewhere within $2 trillion.
Specifically, Axios reported Sunday that Manchin had demanded the removal of $150 billion in clean-energy initiatives, as well as the addition of a work requirement and a family income cap of around $60,000 on an expanded child tax credit proposal
Private strife between the two broke into public view on Friday, when Manchin knocked Sanders for writing an op-ed in a West Virginia newspaper claiming the legislation would benefit working families in the Mountain State.
Sanders had written in the Charleston Gazette-Mail that “[p]oll after poll shows overwhelming support for this legislation. Yet, the political problem we face is that in a 50-50 Senate we need every Democratic senator to vote ‘yes,’ We now have only 48. Two Democratic senators remain in opposition, including Sen. Joe Manchin.”
Manchin responded by accusing Sanders of wanting to “throw more money on an already overheated economy while 52 other Senators have grave concerns about this approach.”
“This isn’t the first time an out-of-state has tried to tell West Virginians what is best for them despite having no relationship to our state,” Manchin said in a statement. “Millions of jobs are open, supply chains are strained and unavoidable inflation taxes are draining workers’ hard-earned wages as the price of gasoline and groceries continues to climb.”
“To be clear, again, Congress should proceed with caution on any additional spending and I will not vote for a reckless expansion of government programs,” Manchin’s statement concluded. “No op-ed from a self-declared Independent socialist is going to change that.”
Democrats are trying to get the social spending bill through the Senate with the help of a parliamentary procedure called reconciliation, which means the measure can pass the Senate with no Republican votes. However, with the chamber evenly divided, Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) — who has also balked at the bill’s price tag — have to get on board with the legislation
Meanwhile, a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, which Manchin and Sinema helped craft and which passed the Senate in August, is languishing in the House due to far-left lawmakers’ insistence that the social spending bill come up for a vote first. In an all-hands meeting with House Democrats earlier this month, President Biden made clear that the infrastructure bill would not move without the larger measure.
Prior to Manchin’s grinning appearance with Sanders, the West Virginian spoke with Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the leader of the House Progressive Caucus after weeks of no communication.
Negotiations over the social spending bill risk bumping up against several key deadlines. A 30-day stopgap measure that provides funding for the Highway Trust Fund expires Oct. 31. Renewed funding is included in the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, but progressives have so far held firm with their threat to defeat it unless the social spending bill passes first.
Congress must also pass legislation funding the government and raising the debt ceiling by Dec. 3 or risk the unprecedented double whammy of a shutdown and a federal default.