President Biden’s two top domestic priorities, a $3.5 trillion, party-line social spending bill and a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, appear to be unraveling with disunity among Democrats.
Sen. Joe Manchin III, a West Virginia Democrat and top swing vote for the White House agenda, reiterated his opposition to the bigger package on Sunday. He said it would be improper for Congress to consider spending such a large sum given the state of the economy.
“We have done an awful lot and there are still an awful lot of people that need help, but there are 11 million jobs that aren’t filled right now,” Mr. Manchin said. “A million people are still unemployed. Something is not matching up.”
Democrats are pitching the spending package to voters as “human infrastructure.” They suggest the package complements the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that focuses on roads, bridges and airport projects. The Senate passed the legislation last month.
The bigger bill amounts to a wish list of liberal priorities such as proposals for climate change, amnesty for illegal immigrants, tuition-free community college and expanded health care.
Mr. Manchin said Democratic leaders would not have his vote on the $3.5 trillion legislation at its current size and scope. He urged his colleagues to trim the top-line figure, means-test the social welfare proposals and ensure the bill is funded by gutting the Trump tax cuts.
“I thought the 2017 [Trump] tax law was very unfair. It was weighted to the wealthy,” he said. “If we have a competitive tax code, [moving] from a noncompetitive one that doesn’t help the working person like the one done in 2017, that’s in the [$1-1.5 trillion] range.”
Democrats plan to pass the $3.5 trillion package via budget reconciliation, given that it’s opposed universally by Republicans. Reconciliation allows some spending measures to avoid the Senate‘s 60-vote filibuster threshold and pass with a simple majority of 51 votes — or 50 votes plus the tiebreaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris.
Without Mr. Manchin’s support, Democrats have no hope of passing the legislation in the evenly split Senate.
Far-left Democrats say a smaller reconciliation package is “absolutely unacceptable.”
“I don’t think it’s acceptable to the president, the American people or the overwhelming majority of the people in the Democratic Caucus,” said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernard Sanders, a self-described socialist from Vermont.
As leverage against Mr. Manchin, liberals in the House and Senate are threatening to withhold their support from the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package. Mr. Manchin, who helped craft the deal, repeatedly has called for a stand-alone vote.
Democratic leaders, most prominently House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, have balked. They say the bipartisan legislation is inextricably linked to the reconciliation package.
“From Day One, the president of the United States, the speaker of the House, Majority Leader [Charles E.] Schumer have made it clear we’re going down a two-track approach,” Mr. Sanders said. “Both bills are going together.”
Liberals say Mr. Manchin’s call to lower the price tag of the reconciliation bill does not recognize the fact that they have already compromised. Most on the far left initially wanted a $6 trillion reconciliation that included single-payer health care and extensive public housing.
“A major compromise has already been made, and there is a real danger, a real danger that this bill will lose, that the infrastructure bill will lose in the House because you’ve got many people there, and I support them, who are saying … we had a joint agreement,” Mr. Sanders said. “We’re going to go forward together.”
The Senate is returning to Washington this week. Mr. Schumer, New York Democrat, has set a hard deadline of Sept. 15 to finish the reconciliation package.
Complicating matters is that Mrs. Pelosi has agreed to hold a vote on the infrastructure deal in the House on Sept. 27. Liberals have pledged to vote against the bipartisan bill if the Senate has not passed the reconciliation package by then.
“There’s no way we can get this done by the 27th,” Mr. Manchin said. “There are still so many differences that we have here, and we’re so much apart from where we are.”