Progressives recoil at Manchin op-ed as Dems' $3.5T spending plan faces uphill battle amid party infighting

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Progressives recoiled at an op-ed by Sen. Joe Machin Thursday in which the moderate doubled-down on his position that he won’t support a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill, as Democrats prepare for a major intra-party dustup once Congress comes back later this month. 

“The Northeast is flooded after torrential rain. The West Coast is on fire. The Gulf is still reeling from the hurricane,” the House Progressive Caucus tweeted Thursday in reaction to Manchin’s missive in the Wall Street Journal in which he warned Democrats to “hit a strategic pause” on the bill. 

“This is no time to pause or pull back. We need to pass the President’s Build Back Better agenda and invest in urgent climate action NOW. Lives are at stake,” the caucus, which represents the Democrats in the farther left wing of the party, added. 

“Pause on finally delivering child care, paid leave, education, health care, affordable housing, climate action, and dental, vision, and hearing to millions of families across America?” Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., added. “Absolutely not.” 

The harsh reaction from the progressive foreshadows what could be a caustic September as Democrats aim to pass two of President Biden’s biggest legislative priorities despite massive disagreement within their ranks about how to do it, when to pass which bill, and how much money to spend. 

Moderates like Manchin, D-W.Va., champion the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which the Senate passed before leaving town last month. His centrist counterparts in the House, led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., held out on voting for the budget resolution that enabled Democrats to bypass the Senate filibuster through reconciliation in exchange for a promise from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., that the infrastructure bill will be considered later this month. 

Instead of rushing to spend trillions on new government programs and additional stimulus funding, Congress should hit a strategic pause on the budget-reconciliation legislation.

But Manchin and his allies are much cooler to the idea of spending $3.5 trillion on what amounts to a wish list of Democratic priorities from social programs to climate change and beyond. 

“Over the past 18 months, we’ve spent more than $5 trillion responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Now Democratic congressional leaders propose to pass the largest single spending bill in history with no regard to rising inflation, crippling debt or the inevitability of future crises,” Manchin said in the Journal. “Those who believe such concerns are overstated should ask themselves: What do we do if the pandemic gets worse under the next viral mutation? What do we do if there is a financial crisis like the one that led to the Great Recession?”

“Instead of rushing to spend trillions on new government programs and additional stimulus funding, Congress should hit a strategic pause on the budget-reconciliation legislation,” Manchin added in the Journal. “I, for one, won’t support a $3.5 trillion bill, or anywhere near that level of additional spending, without greater clarity about why Congress chooses to ignore the serious effects inflation and debt have on existing government programs.”

I wish that I could hit your mute button but here we are.

Manchin’s stance in the op-ed did not reveal a new position. He’s previously said he won’t support $3.5 trillion in spending, as has Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., his partner in crime in negotiating the bipartisan infrastructure bill. But it served as a reminder of just how far apart the wings of the Democratic Party are and how heavy of a lift Democratic leaders face this month. 

The rubber will hit the road for the reconciliation bill on September 15. That’s the deadline for committees to finish drafting the legislation. Democrats will then face a mad rush to pass it through both chambers, ensuring that their most centrist or progressive members don’t flake along the way.

The margin for error in both chambers is minuscule. With the 50-50 Senate just a single defection will sink the reconciliation bill. And with 220-212 Democratic majority in the House, if Democrats lose four votes it sinks the bill. Republicans are expected to universally oppose the legislation. 

All of this is happening against a backdrop of progressives threatening to sink the infrastructure bill if they don’t get their way on reconciliation, and moderate threats to tank the reconciliation bill if the infrastructure bill isn’t passed first. The deadline for the House to consider infrastructure is September 27.

Representatives for Schumer and Pelosi did not immediately respond to requests for comment about whether Democratic leadership is willing to lower the price of the reconciliation bill to accommodate Manchin and his fellow moderates, or whether the expectation is that they will eventually come along. 

If the price tag on the reconciliation bill is lowered, it’s notably not clear that all progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., will vote for it. He says $3.5 trillion is his floor and that he would rather $5 trillion. 

Manchin’s office did not immediately respond to a request for a response to the progressive attacks on him, or under what conditions he may vote for the reconciliation bill. 

“I wish that I could hit your mute button but here we are,” Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., said Thursday about Manchin’s op-ed. That post was retweeted by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.

“Hey Joe, these are the homes in my district after last night’s storm,” Rep. Jamaal Bowmen, D-N.Y., who represents Yonkers, said while sharing photos of heavily flooded and damaged houses. “How much destruction do we need to see before it’s worth investing in our climate?”

Potentially indicating how top Democrats will handle the moderates’ Demands for a scaled-down bill, a member of Pelosi’s leadership team, Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark, D-Mass., launched a broadside against Manchin herself Thursday. 

“We’ve ‘hit the pause button’ on women, working families and our planet long enough. It’s time to fast forward relief for everyday Americans,” she said. 

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