The delicate political balancing act of passing infrastructure legislation through a divided Senate hit a snag Thursday, with Sen. Joe Manchin saying he’s not ready to commit to passing a progressive-backed companion bill that could hit $6 trillion in new spending.
“That sounds extremely, extremely high for us to take on that much debt,” Manchin told reporters Thursday in signaling he’s not yet on board with this two-track approach.
The West Virginia Democrat has been working with Republicans on a smaller, bipartisan infrastructure deal they presented to the White House Thursday to fund more traditional types of projects, like roads and bridges. But in order to get that narrow package through the Senate, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he’ll tie that legislation to a second, much more comprehensive spending package that will only need Democratic support under a process called budget reconciliation.
In a 50-50 split Senate, the trick is that all Democrats would have to sign onto the larger package that is being championed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, who chairs the Budget Committee. Sanders, I-Vt., and progressives want a major investment into social safety net programs, including an expansion of Medicare, and want to tax the rich and the wealthiest corporations to pay for it. But if Manchin doesn’t get on board, it could sink the two-track plan.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a crucial 50th vote for Democrats on President Biden’s proposals, walks with reporters as senators go to the chamber for votes ahead of the approaching Memorial Day recess, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, May 27, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
“We have to see what’s in the other plan before I can say, ‘Oh yes, you vote for this and I’ll vote for that,'” Manchin said Thursday at the Capitol. “That’s not what I have signed up for. I want to sign up for what’s in the plan that makes sense, keeps us competitive and also takes care of the needs of America.”
The trouble is that if progressives don’t have a commitment that their larger wish list is going to pass, they won’t sign off on the bipartisan deal that moderates like Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., have authored.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said she needs an “ironclad” promise of the reconciliation bill to vote for an infrastructure compromise. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., on Thursday called the bipartisan package that Manchin wants “too small” and “pitiful” and insisted that a second package to focus on human infrastructure is needed.
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) visits with striking Chicago teachers at Oscar DePriest Elementary School on October 22, 2019, in Chicago, Illinois. Warren said she won’t back any bipartisan infrastructure bill without an “ironclad” commitment on a larger human infrastructure bill. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., both have said progressives and moderates need to agree to both packages in order for anything to get passed since they both have slim Democratic majorities in their chambers.
These two bills are “tied together,” Schumer reiterated Thursday.
“We won’t get enough votes to pass either unless we have enough votes to pass both.”
Pelosi Thursday also made clear one can’t be done without the other: “There ain’t going to be an infrastructure bill unless we have the reconciliation bill passed by the United States Senate,” she said during a news conference.
Manchin, however, said he hopes his liberal colleagues won’t be so quick to dismiss the smaller bipartisan deal.
“Please don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” Manchin told reporters at the Capitol. “We’re doing so much good in this piece of legislation.”
Asked to respond to Manchin’s comments, Warren said: “I’m not asking for perfect. I’ve been around the Senate long enough to know nobody gets everything they wanted.”
But Warren said it’s time for billionaires and big corporations to pay up to fund critical human infrastructure needs in the reconciliation package.
“[U]nderstand this: We’re not leaving childcare behind. We’re not leaving home health care behind. We are not leaving the green energy changes that we need to save our planet behind,” Warren said at the Capitol Thursday. “And we are not going to make America’s middle-class families pay for this package. It’s time for the billionaires and the big corporations to step up and those parts – they got to be in this package.”
Fox News’ Jason Donner, Caroline McKee and Tyler Olson contributed to this report.