Manchin raises red flags over Dems’ agenda ahead of Biden talk

Joe Manchin is raising deep concerns about the structure of Democrats’ climate and social spending bill, a warning sign for Democrats as the West Virginia senator prepares for a Monday conversation with President Joe Biden.

With Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer pressing for action by Christmas, the phone call between Biden and Manchin comes at a critical moment. And Manchin made clear Monday that he’s not yet sold on the sweeping $1.7 trillion proposal.

The moderate senator is the key hold-out for the party-line bill in a 50-50 Senate, and he’s concerned about rising debt, persistent inflation and the bill’s true costs, calling a Friday GOP-requested Congressional Budget Office report of the bill’s potential 10-year costs “sobering.” On Monday, at least, he did not sound like somebody ready to send the Democratic legislation to Biden’s desk without a lot more changes.

“Everyone has to choose basically what we can sustain,” Manchin told reporters in a message to fellow Democrats.

Schumer made clear later that day he’s sticking to his schedule. The majority leader said on the Senate floor that Democrats would continue working with the parliamentarian and finalizing the bill this week. He also said that Democrats are “working hard to put the Senate in a position to get the legislation across the finish line before Christmas.”

Notably, in his own remarks, Manchin didn’t urge Schumer to punt consideration of the bill until January, nor did he say he would vote against anything. In vintage Manchin fashion, he’s still talking to his colleagues and keeping his options open.

“People have been in a hurry for a long time to do something. But I think, basically, we’re seeing things unfold that allows us to prepare better. And that’s what we should do,” Manchin said.

Two recent reports served to increase Manchin’s economic anxiety. The CBO said Friday that if the provisions in Democrats’ bill were extended, it would add $3 trillion to the deficit. Additionally, consumer prices surged in November, hiking inflation to its fastest rate since 1982. Democrats and the White House argue that the bill’s provisions will be paid for when they are extended and that inflation is peaking and soon to ease.

His own concerns aside, Manchin is going to hear out the president while all of Washington waits on the conversation between the two Joes. He made a point to call Biden a “friend” and praise the president’s deep experience as a 36-year senator.

“We’re going to talk about exactly what happened on Friday with the CBO score and inflation reports,” Manchin said. He said he wants to hear directly from Biden about “where he’s at and what his concerns may be.”

It doesn’t sound like Biden shares Manchin’s concerns at the moment. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden will be “making the case for why the president feels this legislation should move forward.”

Behind the scenes, Senate Democrats are still rushing to piece together a bill that could see floor action this year, even as Manchin’s comments raise further doubts about whether Schumer can meet his Christmas goal. Over the weekend, two committees released updated legislative text, though the draft omitted a forthcoming compromise for state and local taxes and included paid leave, which Manchin wants to leave out of the social spending bill.

Perhaps most concerning for Democrats, though, is Manchin’s issue with the entire way the bill is constructed. As is common in Congress, several of the provisions from Democrats would expire quickly — in the case of the expanded child credit, after just one year. Manchin believes Democrats should assume those programs will be extended, which would increase the actual cost of the bill over time.

“If we don’t, we’re not transparent and accurate, then where does the money come from? We go back and another bite and more and more funding? Or do we just throw caution to the wind and have debt financing, which has been done by both parties for far too long?” Manchin said Monday.

He didn’t stop there. Manchin also said he wanted some of the money Democrats are raising from new taxes on corporations and the wealthy to go toward paying down the debt and urged the Federal Reserve Bank to taper its quantitative easing program, one of his key demands dating back to July.

Claire Rafford contributed to this report.

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