Sep 7, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Manchin backs as little as $1 trillion of Biden's $3.5 trillion plan

An elevator door closes at the Capitol with Sen. Joe Manchin inside

Sen. Joe Manchin. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) has privately warned the White House and congressional leaders that he has specific policy concerns with President Biden's $3.5 trillion social spending dream — and he'll support as little as $1 trillion of it.

  • At most, he's open to supporting $1.5 trillion, sources familiar with the discussions say.

Why it matters: In a 50-50 Senate, that could mean the ceiling for Biden's "Build Back Better" agenda — and that many progressive priorities, from universal preschool to free community college, are in danger of dying this Congress.

  • Manchin also has committed to paying for any new spending with new revenue, which will limit the ultimate size of any final package.
  • This amount would be on top of a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal passed by the Senate and awaiting House action.

Between the lines: Underlying Manchin’s concerns with Democrats' $3.5 trillion budget proposal, which originated in Sen. Bernie Sanders' budget committee, are deep and substantive differences over the size and scope of specific programs.

  • Manchin has voiced concerns about Biden’s plan to spend $400 billion for home caregivers.
  • He's also talking about means testing on other key proposals, including extending the enhanced Child Tax Credit, which provides up to an additional $300 per child per month, free community college, universal preschool and child care tax credits.
  • And he’s skeptical that so-called dynamic scoring — which Democrats embraced as a way to offset some costs of hard infrastructure spending — can be applied to “human” or “soft” infrastructure proposals.
  • For years, Republicans have relied on dynamic scoring to argue that tax cuts can pay for themselves in the long run, by growing the economy and therefore increasing revenues.

The big picture: House and Senate committees have until Sept. 15 to write specific legislation on how to spend up to $3.5 trillion — while also finding $1.5 trillion in new revenue from corporations and the wealthiest Americans — to enact Biden’s agenda.

  • Manchin threw cold water on the process last week with a Wall Street Journal op-ed, where he argued for a "strategic pause," citing inflation and the need to preserve some fiscal headspace to respond to COVID-19, if the virus continues to rampage.
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has promised House centrists a vote on the separate $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package by Sept. 27.
  • Biden, speaking at the White House Tuesday evening, said, "Joe at the end has always been there."
  • "He's always been with me. I think we can work something out. I look forward to speaking with him."

Flashback: During the negotiations for the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, Manchin helped force Biden into lowering the amount of unemployment assistance and into raising the income limits on who would receive $1,400 direct payment checks.

What we're hearing: The White House still appears optimistic that a deal can be reached.

  • Manchin was careful in his WSJ piece not to close the door to future negotiations.
  • "Sanders wanted a large number and Manchin wants a smaller number and we’re going to work this process to try to reach common ground," said one source familiar with the White House's thinking. "There is a wide spectrum of opinions in the Democratic caucuses, and plenty of negotiation will take place. But we will continue to get this done, finding common ground."

Editor's note: This post has been updated to include comments from President Biden.

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