Nov 1, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Manchin's $3.9 trillion pause

Sen. Joe Manchin is seen addressing reporters on Monday.

Sen. Joe Manchin pauses while addressing reporters on Monday. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Efforts to pressure Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to express support for President Biden's massive social safety net expansion prompted him to make his two dramatic declarations: don't rush the package, and don't link it to the separate infrastructure bill, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: Manchin's surprise press statement Monday didn't just disrupt the glide path to a vote envisioned by House leaders; it created a PR nightmare for the White House. He said the $1.75 trillion package was financed by "shell games" — Manchin believes it will cost closer to $3.9 trillion.

  • That estimate comes from the Penn Wharton Budget model, which has been helping Manchin sort through how much each program costs. It includes easily digestible tables, showing the costs per year and over the usual 10-year window.
  • The same experts estimated last week that the revenue increases Biden proposes to finance the spending — which the White House put at $1.9 trillion — may only generate closer to $1.5 trillion.
  • Manchin has been consulting with Penn Wharton experts throughout the process and trusts the model.

By the numbers: For example, the White House puts the cost of day care subsidies and universal preschool at $400 billion; Penn Wharton estimates it at $700 billion over 10 years.

  • The White House wants to spend $200 billion to extend the child tax credit for one year at the enhanced $3,600-per-year level, and make it fully refundable for its duration. Penn Wharton calculates the total cost, over 10 years, at $1.8 trillion.
  • Drafters of the bill have taken to using an array of different program durations to make the total spending number digestible for wavering Democrats.

Between the lines: Manchin’s opposition to the current reconciliation package also is bigger than whether it's voted upon before a tandem infrastructure bill.

  • He continues to negotiate over substantive concerns — from climate provisions to total costs — and hints he could eventually vote for it.
  • "I'm open to supporting a final bill that helps move our country forward,” he said Monday. “But I'm equally open to voting against a bill that hurts our country."

The big picture: Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have been at the center of talks for passing the two massive bills because they've challenged their fellow Democrats over their cost and scope.

  • House progressives have targeted the two senators and said they wouldn't pass the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill unless Manchin, Sinema and their fellow Democrats pass it or, more recently, publicly declare their support for it.
  • Congressional leaders pressed Manchin over the weekend to publicly declare his support for the reconciliation package, hoping that would convince progressives to vote for the infrastructure bill.
  • That approach backfired — spectacularly — in the Senate briefing room.

What they're saying: "Holding this bill hostage is not going to work in getting my support," Manchin told reporters.

  • The senator said he was concerned he couldn't accurately determine the reconciliation bill's true cost or scope without final legislative language.
  • "As more of the real details of the basic framework [for the reconciliation bill] are released, what I see are shell games — budget gimmicks that make the real cost of the so-called $1.75 trillion bill estimated to be almost twice that amount ... if you extended it permanently," Manchin said.

Go deeper: Sinema has had similar concerns about how much each program costs over 10 years.

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