Written by Lisa Mascaro and Fernoush Amiri
Washington (AFP) Senator Joe Manchin on Monday echoed his support for President Joe Biden’s sweeping $1.75 trillion proposal for domestic policy, saying instead “it’s time to vote” on a trillion-dollar slimmer infrastructure package that has stalled amid talks.
The West Virginia Democrat’s announcement comes as Democrats want a signal from Manchin that he will support Biden’s big deal. He’s one of two key vote-down senators to secure the deal and push it toward its passage.
Instead, Manchin dismissed the progressive Democrats, urging them to drop the “hostage” of the smaller public works bill as negotiations on the broader package continued.
That’s enough,” Manchin said at a hastily held news conference at the Capitol.
Manchin said he was ready to vote on a final bill that would reflect Biden’s big package “that moves our country forward.” But he said he was “equally open to voting against” the final product while evaluating the Comprehensive Social Services Act and the climate change bill.
Democrats have been working frantically to finish Biden’s domestic package after months of negotiations, and are rushing toward the first round of a possible House vote later this week.
The White House quickly responded that it remained confident that Manchin would support Biden’s plan, and congressional leaders indicated that votes are on track as planned.
“Senator Manchin says he is prepared to support a plan to build back better that combats inflation, takes fiscal responsibility and creates jobs,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement. “As a result, we remain confident that the plan will win Senator Manchin’s support.”
The stakes are high with Biden out at a global climate change summit and his party competing in two major gubernatorial races this week — in Virginia and New Jersey — seen as rivals in the political mood of voters.
With Republicans staunchly opposed and no votes available, Democrats are trying to unite progressive and centrist lawmakers around Biden’s big vision.
Progressives have been rejecting a vote on the smaller public works bill, using it as leverage as they try to win commitments from Manchin and Democratic Senator Kirsten Sinema of Arizona, the other major opponent of Biden’s broader bill.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., leader of the Progressive Caucus, indicated that her group is ready to move forward and pass both bills this week in the House of Representatives. She said she was confident that Biden would eventually get the support needed to pass the Senate.
“I would urge everyone to keep calm,” Jayapal told CNN. “We are preparing to pass both bills in the House of Representatives on the president’s agenda.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer echoed the White House, noting that the bills are on the right track.
Despite this, Manchin, in direct response to the progressives’ tactic, said, “Holding this bill hostage is not going to succeed in getting my support” for the broader project. He said he “would not support a bill that would have this effect without a careful understanding of its impact” on the economy and federal debt.
Manchin’s priority has long been a smaller public works bill for highways, highways and broadband projects that the Senate has already approved but has been held back by House progressives as the broader negotiations take place.
“This is not the way the United States Congress should operate,” Manchin said. It is time for our elected leaders in Washington to stop playing the games.
Biden’s top domestic priorities have been a battleground between progressive Democrats and moderates for months, and it remains unclear whether the timetable for an initial vote in the House of Representatives this week can be met.
A $1.75 trillion package is sweeping within reach, and will provide large numbers of Americans with help to pay for health care, education, child-rearing and hospice care in their homes. It will also provide about $555 billion in tax credits to encourage clean energy and electric vehicles, the state’s largest commitment to address climate change.
Much of its costs will be covered by higher taxes on people earning more than $10 million a year and large corporations, which will now face a lower 15% tax in an effort to prevent large corporations from claiming so many deductions that they end up paying zero taxes.
Over the weekend, Democrats made significant progress toward adding provisions that limit prescription drug prices to the massive package, two congressional aides said Sunday. They requested anonymity to discuss ongoing negotiations.
According to a senior Democratic aide, one proposal under discussion would allow Medicare to negotiate lower prices with drug companies for many of its products. The exceptions are drugs for which the Food and Drug Administration has granted primary protection against competition, periods that vary but last for several years.
The chief aide, who did not provide a number, said there will be a cap on drug costs that seniors pay out of their own pocket under Medicare Part D, the outpatient prescription drug benefits. And drug makers will have to pay a discount if their prices rise above certain marks.
Talks were continuing and no final agreement was reached. But the movement has raised hopes that the party’s 10-year, $1.75 trillion measure will fulfill the Democratic campaign’s longstanding promise to lower drug costs, albeit more modestly than some would like.
Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed to this report.