On Monday, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) held a press conference airing his grievances surrounding negotiations over the reconciliation bill, which he has held hostage for months and successfully slashed in half.
In the conference, the right-wing senator said he wanted the bipartisan infrastructure bill that he worked on to pass immediately, and that he wanted Congress to hold off on moving forward with the reconciliation package. Despite Manchin largely getting his way on the reconciliation bill, cutting it down from what the public, the president, and most of the Democratic caucus wanted, he wouldn’t commit to voting for the bill.
“In my view, this is not how the United States Congress should operate,” Manchin said, adding that “the political games have to stop.” He also said that waiting to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill until after the reconciliation bill passes the Senate would not sway him toward voting for the reconciliation bill.
Congress has been engaged in months of deadlock over the reconciliation and infrastructure bills that were originally proposed by the White House in the spring — a stalemate that has been driven almost entirely by Manchin.
Thanks to the work of a bipartisan group of senators led partly by Manchin, the infrastructure bill was cut from $2.25 trillion in new spending to a paltry $550 billion. The reconciliation bill, which was originally a $6 trillion bill, then a $3.5 trillion bill, has also been cut down; after fierce months-long negotiations, the latest White House draft has the price tag pegged at $1.75 trillion.
“I will not support a reconciliation package that expands social programs and irresponsibly adds to [the national debt],” the lawmaker said. “Simply put, I will not support a bill that is this consequential without thoroughly understanding the impact that it will have on our national debt.”
Manchin has said that he’s hesitant to vote for the bill when programs like Social Security and Medicare are underfunded — even though he didn’t cosponsor a recent bill that would modernize Social Security and fund the program for longer.
Despite the fact that the bill is now much closer to his preferred price tag of $1.5 trillion than it is to the $6 trillion or $10 trillion that progressives wanted, Manchin complained that his colleagues were not negotiating in good faith. “While I’ve worked hard to find a path to compromise, it’s obvious: compromise is not good enough for a lot of my colleagues in Congress,” he said. “It’s all or nothing. And their position doesn’t seem to change unless we agree to everything.”
Considering that progressive lawmakers have already compromised greatly on their priorities in the course of negotiations, this is perhaps the most ironic statement that the senator could make. While progressive lawmakers have had to compromise down from $8.25 trillion or $4.25 trillion for this new framework, Manchin only has to give up $250 billion — or about $25 billion a year, a mere drop in the bucket for the U.S. government.
Colleagues like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) have condemned Manchin’s opaque negotiating strategy, which has concealed his demands from both colleagues and the public.
Manchin’s statements about his desires for the bill have been riddled with inconsistencies. Though the West Virginia senator seems to be a deficit hawk when it comes to social or climate spending, that’s merely an excuse to work against whatever proposals he or his lobbyist allies want to kill.
After close collaboration with Exxon lobbyists, Manchin has carved crucial climate provisions out of both bills, and has fought to apply means testing to provisions that improve quality of life for everyday people, like the child tax credit — or to cut the programs entirely. He also attempted to add a work requirement for paid leave, even though the person claiming the paid leave would, by definition, have to have a job to take off from in the first place.
Now, the lawmaker is once again suggesting that the reconciliation bill be separated from the infrastructure bill, even though — or perhaps because — progressives have pointed out that delaying the reconciliation bill could lead to its destruction.
Of course, when provisions that Manchin favors have the potential to increase the deficit, he doesn’t say a word.
According to an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the infrastructure bill that Manchin wants to immediately pass would add about $260 billion to the deficit, or about half of the new spending that the bill proposes, an amount that the senator has yet to comment on. He has also opposed popular revenue raisers like raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations through the reconciliation bill, despite the fact that the proposals would raise nearly enough to pay for the entire $3.5 trillion framework.
The West Virginia coal baron has fought hard to include spending on coal and the fossil fuel industry. He recently got a $775 million oil and gas subsidy added to the bill, and has been fighting for at least $121 billion worth of subsidies for the industry — a move that has been praised by the coal industry. “I think the positive news for the people in the coal business, it looks like, Senator Manchin’s been successful [in cutting climate provisions],” a coal producer CEO said last week in an earnings call.