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CNN  — 

Here’s what Joe Manchin knows: There’s no way, no how, that he is voting for the proposed $3.5 trillion spending bill being pushed by Senate Democrats.

Here’s what Joe Manchin appears to have no clue about: What size spending bill he would vote for.

This exchange, which is long but worth it, between CNN’s Dana Bash and the West Virginia Democratic Senator on Sunday is illustrative of both of those points:

Bash: Do you have a specific number in mind?

Manchin: Here’s a number you should be getting to. First of all, I have agreed to get onto the reconciliation, because that’s the time for us to make financial adjustments and changes. I thought the 2017 tax code and tax law, the way it was changed, was barely – very, very unfair. And it was weighted to the heavy – to the wealthy.

Bash: So what’s the number?

Manchin: And bottom line is, what’s – the number would be what’s going to be competitive in our tax code.

I believe the corporate rate should be at 25, not 21.

Bash: But what’s the overall number for the budget bill?

Manchin: You know, I think that you’re going to have to look at it and find out what you’re able to do through a reasonable, responsible way.

Bash: So, then how do you know that it’s not 3.5?

Manchin: And if that’s going to be at 1.5, if it’s going to be 1, 1.5 – we don’t know where it’s going to be.

Bash: So, you think, ballpark, 1, 1.5?

Manchin: It’s not going to be at 3.5, I can assure you.

But, with that, whatever it is, once you have a competitive tax code that you can compete globally, and then you should look at what the need is. What’s the urgency and the need that we have?

Bash: And I’m – again, I want to get to that, but just because this is – this is the thing that people consume. Do you have a ceiling?

Manchin: I – my ceiling is this, the need of the American people, and for us to basically take in consideration inflation. No one’s concerning about the debt. Our debt as of Friday was 28.7 trillion? And we’re not even talking about that. No one is talking about that.

Bash: So, 1 – you just said 1.5. It sounds like $1.5 trillion is your number?

Manchin: I’m just saying that, basically – well, I have looked at numbers. If we have a competitive tax code from a noncompetitive, doesn’t help the working person that was done in 2017, that’s in the 1, 1.5 range, OK? If that’s where it is, shouldn’t you be looking at, what does it take now to meet the urgent needs that we have that we haven’t already met?


If you weren’t counting, Dana asked Manchin SEVEN times what the number would be that he could vote for. And seven times Manchin hedged. Even when she pushed on a number he had thrown out – $1.5 trillion – he wouldn’t commit to that!

Manchin’s lack of clarity is no small matter. With Democrats holding only 50 Senate seats, they need every single member of their party – plus the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris – to pass this spending bill, which President Joe Biden had made clear is a major priority for his administration.

Without Manchin’s vote – and it’s clear that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer doesn’t have it right now – there is no reconciliation package, no matter how big (or small). Manchin is the linchpin in all of this – and he knows it.

What’s difficult – from Schumer’s perspective – is that Manchin seems to not know what he DOES want. What is the number – or around the number – that would turn Manchin’s “no” vote into a “yes”? Is it $1.5 trillion? Less? More?

To best understand Manchin’s current stance – and why it is utterly maddening for Senate leaders as well as the more liberal House Democratic caucus – take it out of the political context. Think about it like this: You and your significant other decide you want to go out to dinner. You suggest a few places and he or she says no to each. You name a few more, and he or she continues to reject them. Exasperated, you ask “Well, where do YOU want to eat?” and get this response: “I don’t know.”

Joe Manchin is the undecided diner in this scenario. Except we aren’t talking about where to get dinner. We’re talking about trillions in government spending that would fundamentally reshape the way government is involved in the lives of individuals for years to come.