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If you can’t keep track of Democrats’ massive spending push, you aren’t alone. Even the party’s most impactful senator has changed course multiple times in the past year.
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin is a pivotal figure in the passage of any Democratic legislation right now. The party holds on to a razor-thin margin, and losing the moderate Democrat’s support would doom much of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda.
The party entered the last week of September with several policy battles to win. Among the most important is Biden’s $3.5 trillion spending plan, which would be the country’s biggest expansion of social programs since the New Deal of the 1930s. It comes in addition to a $1 trillion bill for roads and bridges that passed the Senate in a bipartisan vote.
As negotiations have dragged on, Manchin has emerged as a clear opponent of the larger plan, and thanks to him and fellow moderate Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, of Arizona, the $3.5 trillion proposal is all but dead. Manchin is now pushing a package that’s less than half the proposed size. In January, he sang a different tune.
In July, Manchin presented his infrastructure proposals to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Politico revealed and Insider confirmed. His $1.5 trillion topline is far lower than the reconciliation package around which Democrats have coalesced.
Manchin reaffirmed his commitment to $1.5 trillion on Thursday, telling reporters that “I believe in my heart” that’s the most that the country can afford right now.
In January, Manchin said he’d back up to $4 trillion in infrastructure spending, as then-president-elect Joe Biden laid out his plans for office.
“The most important thing? Do infrastructure. Spend $2, $3, $4 trillion over a 10-year period on infrastructure,” Manchin told Inside West Virginia Politics in January.
He reaffirmed his support for a larger package in April, as Senate Republicans readied their own much smaller infrastructure package.
“We’re going to do whatever it takes. If it takes $4 trillion, I’d do $4 trillion, but we have to pay for it,” Manchin told reporters at the time, saying that he would go big if the situation warranted it.
The document obtained by Politico is dated July 28, meaning that it came about two weeks after Senate Democrats announced their $3.5 trillion reconciliation deal. Ahead of that deal, Manchin said any Democratic-only plan would need to be fully paid for, and not require borrowing money.
After Manchin presented his proposals to Schumer, all 50 Senate Democrats voted to advance the $3.5 trillion blueprint and send it to the House. That unanimous support is now on the ropes.
For months, progressives have warned they’ll torpedo any attempt to bring the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package without the $3.5 trillion party-line reconciliation moving in tandem. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has attempted to do just that, a risky gamble as there is no guarantee the reconciliation bill would pass afterward.
After the progressive wing of the party pushed back, a Thursday vote on the bipartisan package was pulled as Democrats regrouped and confusion reigns about what comes next.
“We started off with the $10 trillion number. They wanted to bring that down to six, so we obliged, negotiating in good faith. Then several months ago, we had an agreement with Senator Manchin … saying we will move forward on this $3.5 trillion,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told NBC’s Garrett Haake. “Since then, some folks in our party have reneged on that agreement, and that’s where I think we have an issue of trust.”
What is clear, though, is Manchin’s opinion will continue to dictate where the package goes next. And a statement on Wednesday at least signaled where his head is at: “Spending trillions more on new and expanded government programs, when we can’t even pay for the essential social programs, like Social Security and Medicare, is the definition of fiscal insanity.”