"And the social issues, we basically have to deal with those" afterward, the West Virginia centrist said in a post-State of the Union interview.
Sen. Joe Manchin speaks to reporters after a briefing at the U.S. Capitol Building February 03, 2022 in Washington, D.C. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images
By Burgess Everett and Nicholas Wu
03/02/2022 01:32 PM EST
Updated: 03/02/2022 05:12 PM EST
Joe Manchin is once again setting the agenda for Democrats and says he’s willing to make a deal. They’re listening — cautiously.
Hours after President Joe Biden laid out what he hoped to salvage from Democrats’ defunct “Build Back Better” social spending plan, Joe Manchin quickly assembled a counteroffer. It might amount to deja vu for Democrats, many of whom still feel burned from last year’s debacle, yet many in the party are willing to entertain any shot they have to unify while they still have control of Congress.
“Here’s the thing. I’ve always been open to talking to people okay? But they just don’t want to hear,” Manchin said in a Wednesday interview.
The West Virginia centrist laid out a basic party-line package that could win his vote in the interview, to lower the deficit and enact some new programs — provided they are permanently funded. It may be Democrats’ best and last chance to get at least some of their major domestic priorities done before the midterm election, even as some leading liberals acknowledged any potential deal would not come close to the $1.7 trillion package Manchin spurned in December.
Manchin said that if Democrats want to cut a deal on a party-line bill using the budget process to circumvent a Republican filibuster, they need to start with prescription drug savings and tax reform. He envisions whatever revenue they can wring out of that as split evenly between reducing the federal deficit and inflation, on the one hand, and enacting new climate and social programs, on the other — “to the point where it’s sustainable.”
“If you do that, the revenue producing [measures] would be taxes and drugs. The spending is going to be climate,” Manchin said.
“And the social issues, we basically have to deal with those” with any money that’s left, he added. As far as whether he thinks his party finally understands his parameters for joining the talks, he said that Democrats “know where I am. They just basically think that I’m going to change.”
Negotiating with Manchin isn’t exactly Democrats’ favorite topic after nearly a year of back and forth. Asked about whether he can envision a passable deal, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) responded: “I was hoping you would were going to, like, ask me to expound about Ukraine.”
“I’ve got a lot of respect for him. And hope springs eternal,” Warner said. The two are often aligned in centrist deal-making groups.
Manchin, who also chairs the Senate Energy Committee, said that the climate portion of any theoretical bill will look different now that Russia is invading Ukraine. He’s calling for the U.S. to ban oil imports from Russia and ramp up domestic energy production, including fossil fuels. He would support big clean energy investments in a potential deal, he said, but wants domestic oil, gas and coal production to still be a big part of the mix.
“You want to be able to defend your people, have reliable, dependable and affordable power? You have to use ‘all of the above,’” Manchin said, defending his support for clean energy investments. “They say ‘Manchin doesn’t care … he’s killing the environment.’ I’m not killing anything.”
Though he prefers everything in Congress to be bipartisan, Manchin said he has “come to that conclusion” that changing the tax code to make the rich and corporations pay their fair share can only be done with Democratic votes. To enact Manchin’s vision, Democrats would also have to bargain with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) who last year steered the party toward surtaxes and corporate minimum taxes — and away from raising individual and corporate tax rates.
Sinema said Wednesday that the tax package negotiated last year, which shied away from raising those rates, would more than pay for what Manchin is talking about.
“Any new, narrow proposal — including deficit reduction — already has enough tax reform options to pay for it. These reforms are supported by the White House, target tax avoidance, and ensure corporations pay taxes, while not increasing costs on small businesses or everyday Americans already hurting from inflation,” said Hannah Hurley, a spokesperson for Sinema.
Progressives might take a while to warm to it. Asked about Manchin’s hopes of diverting new revenues to deficit reduction and inflation, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) griped: “I don’t care what he wants. We’re talking about what the American people want. He doesn’t like it, he can vote against it, that’s his business.”
And Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) scoffed, saying it would not satisfy many of the House’s frustrated liberals. She seemed more interested in still trying to change Manchin’s mind on the expanded child tax credit and other domestic programs than in accepting his blueprint.
“I would hope he would reconsider, and realize how many people are being left behind,” Lee said. “We’ve got to keep going and try to get everything that we can get.”
Despite some lawmakers’ aggravation with Manchin, other progressives were willing to entertain just about whatever they could get through with only 50 Senate Democrats and a slim House majority. After all, the midterms are now eight months away; recreating the momentum to put a big bill on the floor may take months.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) put it this way: “There’s so much that we all agree on, that we ought to be able to get a deal.” And Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), the deputy chair of the Progressive Caucus, said she’s “open” to Manchin’s energy proposal provided “it’s paired with a real meaningful commitment, and actual movement.”
Biden’s State of the Union address called for congressional action on some of the individual portions of the wide-ranging social spending measure that the House passed last year, including drug pricing, child care, tax hikes on the wealthy and climate change. The momentum that Democrats had mustered for their trillion-dollar-plus proposal has mostly evaporated, and some lawmakers are increasingly open to slimmed-down legislation or even standalone bills to address their policy priorities.
“I’ve basically said as far as I’m concerned, this is going to be like found money if we come up with anything,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin. “I don’t assume anything with a reconciliation bill. [Expectations are] as low as they go.
And while Manchin said no “formal” talks are happening with the White House, there’s “informal back-and-forth.” He declined to say if he’s spoken to Biden recently about it: “Different White House people reach out, and we talk from time to time.”
Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.
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