Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin said Wednesday that members of his caucus would be wise to “hit the pause button” on their $3.5 trillion budget, a sweeping piece of legislation that includes the bulk of President Joe Biden’s agenda.
Manchin, a moderate from West Virginia who often breaks from his more liberal colleagues, spoke during a Chamber of Commerce meeting. His comments were first reported by Bloomberg.
“Hit the pause button,” Manchin said. “Let’s sit back. Let’s see what happens. We have so much on our plate. We really have an awful lot. I think that would be the prudent, wise thing to do.”
His comments come as congressional committees convene to write the mammoth bill ahead of Congress’ return from their August recess, and as the country faces a chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal, spiking coronavirus cases and deaths and multiple natural disasters. Leadership has set a target date of Sept. 15 for the bill to be written, with a goal of passing it before the end of the month.
“The night before we voted on the bipartisan infrastructure bill, Bernie Sanders wanted to talk to me. Bernie and I- I respect Bernie, truly — is very much a socialist. He makes no bones about it,” Manchin said during the meeting Wednesday, recounting a moment in Congress discussing legislation. Manchin added that Sanders said he could squash the bill talks himself, on either side of the aisle.
“He looked at me and said, ‘You gonna vote for the 3.5 trillion?'” Manchin recalled Bernie asking him. “I said, ‘hell no, Bernie. I’m not voting for 3.5 trillion.’ He says, ‘well at least you’re honest with me.'”
Congress in September must also raise the debt ceiling and fund the government for the next fiscal year, and the House must still pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill. (RELATED: Congress Faces An Absolutely Brutal September Filled With High-Stakes Deadlines)
While both the House and Senate have advanced the budget, it still faces major hurdles — mainly unified Republican opposition and disagreements among progressives and moderates — before reaching Biden’s desk. The two Democratic wings are at odds over how the budget and public works package should be prioritized, with progressives threatening to tank the bipartisan bill if they do not get their way.
Those challenges are only compounded by Democrats’ narrow congressional majorities; they have just three votes to spare in the House, and none in the equally divided Senate.
Manchin has already come out against the bill’s current $3.5 trillion price tag, meaning that it does not have enough support to pass as currently proposed. Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a moderate Democrat from Arizona, said the same via a spokesman after the House advanced it in August.
The “proceedings in the U.S. House will have no impact on Kyrsten’s views about what is best for our country — including the fact that she will not support a budget reconciliation bill that costs $3.5 trillion,” he then said.
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