On Thursday, West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin made clear how much he was willing to spend on a budget bill being pushed by President Joe Biden and his fellow Democrats in Congress: $1.5 trillion.
“I’ve never been a liberal in any way, shape or form,” Manchin told a group of reporters. “I’m willing to come from zero to 1.5 (trillion).”
If you have been paying attention, that number would have sounded very, very familiar.
Why? Because Manchin has been citing that number since at least late July. At that time, he sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a copy of which Politico obtained, that made clear that his ceiling was $1.5 trillion. The proposal was signed by both Manchin and Schumer.
“The West Virginia senator has been distributing the document to Democratic colleagues and leaders in recent days to underscore that he has outlined his red lines on President Joe Biden’s jobs and families plan. The one-page understanding is dated July 28, right before the Senate passed a bipartisan infrastructure bill that Manchin helped write and ahead of Senate passage of a budget setting up a spending bill as large as $3.5 trillion.”
It’s right there for any – and all – to see. What Manchin told Schumer on July 28 is exactly what he is advocating for now. A ceiling of $1.5 trillion in spending, with anything in excess of that number going to reducing the deficit.
That consistency – a rarity in politics – appears to have taken his colleagues by surprise.
“It’s pretty sad if you ask me,” said Hawaii Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono about Manchin’s bottom line number. Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth told CNN’s Manu Raju that she didn’t think that number was high enough. Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, insisted that Manchin’s number would change.
The truth that none of these senators seem to want to own up to is this: Nothing that Manchin said on Thursday is a surprise – least of all to Schumer, who, according to the letter, has known what the West Virginia Democrat’s ceiling on the budget bill has been for months now.
The current impasse – liberals in the House refusing to approve a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill until Manchin and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema agree to a framework for the budget bill that is well in excess of $1.5 trillion – is, seen through that lens, entirely avoidable had Schumer simply taken Manchin at his word the first time.
It also means that all of the vitriol from liberals in the House directed at Manchin is misplaced – or, at the least, the result of a misunderstanding. Manchin isn’t coming up with an arbitrary number in an effort to tank the twin pieces of legislation being pushed by Biden. Instead, he is holding a line he staked out months ago.
The problem is no one – most of all Schumer – was listening back then.