Sen. Joe Manchin III, a key swing vote for the White House agenda, is facing not-so-friendly fire from fellow Democrats after refusing to fall in line behind President Biden’s $1.75 trillion social welfare and climate bill.
Colleagues say that Mr. Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, made a serious error on Monday by publicly accusing his party’s left-wing faction of extortion.
“I think Joe made a mistake today by going out and doing the press conference,” said Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat. “I think at this moment in time trust is a hard thing and you don’t want to give people excuses to vote against the [bipartisan infrastructure bill] or against reconciliation.”
At a Capitol press conference, Mr. Manchin argued that progressive Democrats had taken the White House $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill “hostage” to pressure him into backing the bigger social welfare bill.
Democrats plan to push the package through Congress along party lines using budget reconciliation, a process allowing spending measures to pass the 50-50 Senate by a simple majority. Mr. Biden can not afford disunity.
Mr. Manchin did little to mollify intraparty divisions. Instead, he launched a full-throated attack on far-left Democrats for an unwillingness to reconcile ideology with reality.
Not only did Mr. Manchin accuse liberal lawmakers of extortion, but he also claimed they were engaged in “shell games” and “budget gimmicks” to make the reconciliation seem fully funded.
“The political games must stop,” said Mr. Manchin. “To be clear, I will not support the reconciliation legislation without knowing how the bill would impact our debt and our economy and our country.”
The full cost of the bill, which was only released last week, has yet to be analyzed by the Congressional Budget Office. Until such a score was released, Mr. Manchin says he will be unable to decide which way to vote.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernard Sanders, a democratic socialist from Vermont, said such posturing was hypocritical given that the infrastructure bill is slated to add $256 billion to the deficit over the next decade.
“If there’s anybody in the Democratic caucus, or elsewhere, who’s worried about fiscal responsibility and the deficit, the fact is … according to the CBO, the infrastructure bill runs up to $250 billion deficit over a 10 year period,” said Mr. Sanders. “It’s not paid for.”
The dust-up comes as moderate and progressive Democrats face an impasse over both infrastructure and the social welfare package.
Progressive lawmakers say the bipartisan infrastructure bill is their only leverage against moderates such as Mr. Manchin. As such, they have pledged to block a House vote on infrastructure until moderates in the Senate send the bigger bill their way.
Mr. Manchin, for his part, says such political games are unlikely to work.
“The political games must stop. As you’ve heard, there are some House Democrats who say they can’t support this infrastructure package until they get my commitment on the reconciliation legislation,” he said. “Holding this bill hostage won’t work to get my support for the reconciliation bill.”