Fate of Democrats’ Ambitious $3.5 Trillion Bill Rests Once Again With Centrists

With the announcement on Wednesday evening of a breakthrough budget deal among Democrats in the Senate, all eyes and ears are on centrists in the party, who could become the make-or-break votes on whether the final bill moves forward, or eventually gets watered-down because of their disapproval of certain aspects of it.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), who has frustrated a number of his own party members over his zealous defense of the filibuster, as well as for drawing a line in the sand when it comes to raising taxes on corporations, responded to news about the budget deal, which was hashed out and completed by Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee the night prior. In speaking to reporters, Manchin said he wanted to learn more about the bill before committing to it.

“I heard about it this morning or late last night from my staff. So, we’re anxious to basically review it,” the West Virginia senator said. “They worked hard on it, we want to see it.”

Manchin added he wants to see “the pay-fors” — how the budget would be funded — and also “make sure that whatever we do is globally competitive,” an indication that he’ll be looking at corporate tax changes that may have been proposed within the Democrats’ proposal.

“I’m open to looking at everything they provide. OK? They’re going to have to provide all the information that’s going to be needed,” Manchin said.

Still, Manchin’s tone seemed optimistic at times, too, as he suggested he was anxious to hear President Joe Biden’s sales pitch.

“The president is going to come today and explain. We’ll listen to that, we’ll look at the proposal, look at the priorities they have for our country and then basically look at how we’re going to pay for it,” Manchin explained.

Other Democrats sounded off in favor of the bill, the details of which have yet to be made totally public.

“We are very proud of this plan,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) said. “We know we have a long road to go. We’re going to get this done for the sake of making average Americans’ lives a whole lot better.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), who chairs the Budget Committee and who had sought a budget bill that was almost twice as large as the proposed one ended up being, also said he felt it was a good proposal.

“This is, in our view, a pivotal moment in American history,” Sanders said.

The Vermont senator also said that the bill would be paid for by increases in taxes for those earning high incomes and for corporations.

“The wealthy and large corporations are going to pay their fair share of taxes so that we can protect the working families of this country,” he said.

The budget bill will include a number of key progressive priorities, including promises Biden made earlier this year in his American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan.

“Every major program” that the president requested would be “funded in a robust way,” Schumer said to reporters.

Such priorities include as-yet ambiguous promises of infrastructure projects that would combat the climate crisis. An expansion of Medicare, to include benefits for the hearing, vision and dental needs of recipients, would also be a part of the bill, as would a promise to Dreamers for a pathway to citizenship.

Many other major priorities are included in the bill, but none of them can be accomplished unless centrists like Manchin, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona), and others agree with them.

The bill “won’t be anything if Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer fails to hold his caucus together when voting day arrives,” Truthout senior editor and lead columnist William Rivers Pitt wrote on Wednesday. “All 50 Democratic and Dem-affiliated senators, plus Vice President Kamala Harris serving as President of the Senate, will be needed to pass this bill via reconciliation.”

It will be just a matter of weeks before we find out if the centrists will lend their support for the bill.

“They are aiming to get this done before the August recess, so buckle up,” Pitt added.