Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin on Monday pushed back on several politically sensitive positions his party leaders are taking at a crucial time for President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda.
The West Virginia Democrat, who holds a pivotal vote in the 50-50 Senate, indicated to CNN that he disagrees with the strategy top Democrats are pursuing in the standoff with Republicans over raising the national debt limit. Manchin said that Democrats “shouldn’t rule out anything,” including a budget process that Democratic leaders have made clear they will not employ.
Speaking to reporters, Manchin also would not commit to the new timeline set by party leaders to find a deal on the social safety net expansion by October 31. And he sounded resistant to calls from progressives and other top Democrats to raise his $1.5 trillion price tag for the package, which many in his party view as too low to achieve key policy objectives.
In a stark warning sign to progressives, Manchin also indicated the package must include a prohibition against using federal funds for most abortions. “The Hyde Amendment is a red line,” he said. Manchin’s stance puts him at odds with progressives, with Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal saying Sunday she would not support a package that included the Hyde Amendment.
Biden, who dropped his long-held support for the amendment in 2019 when running for the Democratic nomination, said Tuesday he would sign a package that includes the Hyde Amendment. “I want to get the bill passed,” he said.
Republicans have demanded that Democrats use the budget reconciliation process to raise the debt limit, but Democratic leaders described it as a nonstarter. The process opens the Senate up to unwieldy and time-consuming marathon vote series known vote-a-ramas.
“We just can’t let the debt ceiling lapse. We just can’t,” Manchin said, adding that Democrats should not be concerned about politically sensitive votes.
“We can prevent default, we really can prevent it. And there’s a way to do that, and there’s a couple other tools we have that we can use. Takes a little bit of time, a little bit of – it’s gonna be a little bit of pain, long vote-a-ramas, this and that – do what you have to do. But we cannot – and I want people to know – we will not let this country default.”
Asked if leadership should use the reconciliation process, Manchin said, “We’ll do what we have to do, absolutely.”
For now, Democrats and Republicans remain at an impasse over how to raise or suspend the debt limit and the clock is ticking down to a potential economic disaster with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warning lawmakers that the federal government will likely run out of cash by October 18. But that deadline is uncertain, meaning Congress likely cannot afford to wait until then to act.
Republicans insist that Democrats, who control the White House and both chambers of Congress, should act alone to resolve the issue, while Democrats argue it’s a shared bipartisan responsibility, especially given the trillions in debt that was racked up during the Trump administration.
Biden’s economic package
Manchin’s support will be critical for Democrats to advance Biden’s sweeping economic package to expand the social safety net. And he has not backed the key deadline of October 31 that party leadership is now pushing for the package. Asked on Monday if it’s possible to get it done by that date, Manchin said, “I really don’t know on timing – there’s no rush on timing. Let’s just do it and do it right.”
On Monday, the West Virginia Democrat also did not show any willingness to budge from what he laid out as his desired top-line number of $1.5 trillion for the package, which is far lower than what many Democrats want. Progressives want to see the package at $3.5 trillion, while Democratic leaders are now hoping that the party can settle on a number north of $2 trillion.
Asked about Jayapal’s Sunday comments that the $1.5 trillion figure was “too small,” Manchin did not say if he would be willing to go higher. “You know what? Let’s make those decisions. We have to work together, and basically they understand where I am and I’ve been very clear about this for many, many days, many, many weeks and even months,” he said.
Biden said in a virtual meeting with a group of House progressives on Monday that the top line of the social safety net package needs to come down to somewhere between $1.9 trillion and $2.2 trillion, according to two sources familiar with the call.
Biden told the group, according to one of the sources, that was the range he felt Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, another key moderate, would accept but did not specify further within that range.
On Tuesday, Manchin did not rule out the $1.9 trillion to $2.2 trillion price tag range that Biden has floated privately. “I’m not ruling anything out,” Manchin said.
Pressed by CNN on whether that’s the highest he would go, Manchin said, “I don’t know why anything’s surprising to anybody, you know? What we should do is be passing the infrastructure bill, is what we really should be doing,” a reference to a separate $1.2 trillion bipartisan bill that has not yet passed in the House as progressives are demanding a deal first on the sweeping social spending bill.
CNN’s Morgan Rimmer, Ryan Nobles, Annie Grayer, Jason Hoffman and Chandelis Duster contributed to this report.