- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Sen. Joe Manchin III has laid out what he viewed as achievable in regards to President Biden’s long-stalled $1.75 trillion social welfare and climate change package.

Mr. Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat and key swing vote in the evenly split Senate, said Democrats should make combating inflation and lowering the deficit the centerpiece of their plan. Along those lines, he urged Democrats to gut the Trump-era tax cuts and lower the cost of prescription drugs by allowing the federal government to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies. 

“The one thing that we as Democrats all agreed on was that the 2017 tax cuts were weighted unfairly,” he said on Wednesday. “The other thing that we should all agree on is the high pharmaceutical prices, so you allow the negotiations.”

Mr. Manchin said that once the federal government figured out how much revenue would be raised through the tax hikes and price-fixing, Democrats should then set aside half to pay down the deficit and counter inflation. The other half could be used for new social welfare programs. 

The programs could run anywhere from fighting climate change to providing universal pre-kindergarten. The catch is that they would have to run for a decade, something Democrats previously rejected because it significantly limited the size and scope of the package. 

“Half of that money should be dedicated to fighting inflation and reducing the deficit,“ said Mr. Manchin. “The other half you can pick for a 10-year program, whatever you think is the highest priority and right now it seems to be the environment — and that’s a pretty costly one — would take care of it.”

Mr. Manchin has yet to discuss the outline with the White House. 

He offered up his plan the day after Mr. Biden urged Democrats to come together and revive the spending plan, once known as the Build Back Better Act but now christened Build Back America. 

“When we invest in our workers, when we build the economy from the bottom up and the middle out together,” said Mr. Biden. “We can do something we haven’t done in a long time: build a better America.”

The scope of the president’s ambitions, however, appears to be larger than those of Mr. Manchin. The divergence could prove disastrous for Democrats as it did last year. 

Given solid GOP opposition, the only hope for passage of the package is using a party-line procedure known as budget reconciliation. The process allows some tax and spending measures to avert the Senate’s 60-vote filibuster threshold and pass with a simple majority

Last year, Mr. Manchin single-handedly derailed the process by refusing to acquiesce over concerns the legislation would exacerbate inflation.

The White House did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

• Haris Alic can be reached at halic@washingtontimes.com.

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