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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.

Go deeper

Biden meeting with key House Democrats

President Biden. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Biden is hosting two separate in-person meetings with moderate and progressive House members at the White House on Tuesday as infrastructure negotiations continue, White House officials told Axios.

Why it matters: This is the latest in the president’s efforts to appease the more volatile parts of his party’s coalition as Democrats wrangle over how to cut his social spending proposal down from $3.5 trillion to closer to $2 trillion.

Oct 17, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Congress begins yearend sprint

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The House and Senate face an onslaught of deadlines key to fulfilling members' campaign promises and keeping the government afloat as they return from recess this week.

Why it matters: The next few weeks will be pivotal to enacting President Biden's agenda — and determining how the Democratic Party fares in the midterm elections.

Oct 19, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Democrats brace for staredown over paid family medical leave

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Senior House Democrats are braced for battle with the Senate over whether paid family medical leave — a key priority for progressives — will be included in President Biden’s final budget reconciliation bill, lawmakers and aides tell Axios.

Why it matters: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has indicated he wants to cut the program to reduce the bill's price tag. “Paid family and medical leave must be in the final package,” Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, told Axios on Monday.