Sen. Joe Manchin on Wednesday resisted a last-ditch move by Democrats to impose a new tax on billionaires to help pay for President Joe Biden’s sweeping social safety net plan, the latest sign of the major headwinds facing the White House as it tries to lock down a deal to advance the ambitious agenda.
Manchin, a moderate Democrat from West Virginia, also pushed back on a number of key social programs demanded by liberals, including Medicare expansion and paid family leave, which is now expected to be left out of the package.
Asked by CNN if he supports a proposed billionaire tax, Manchin sounded skeptical. “I don’t like it. I don’t like the connotation that we’re targeting different people. There’s people that basically, that contribute to society, that create a lot of jobs, and invest a lot of money, and give a lot to philanthropic pursuits,” he said.
Democrats are facing significant issues over how to pay for the social safety net plan after another key moderate – Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona – made clear she opposed raising the corporate tax rate and the top marginal rate on individuals, which Democrats had originally wanted to finance the plan.
Democratic congressional leaders and the White House had hoped to secure a framework deal on the social safety net plan this week in order to clear the way for a House vote on the separate $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill.
As of now, House leaders are pushing to vote as early as Thursday on the bipartisan infrastructure bill, but it is not clear the votes would be there among progressives, who say they won’t vote for the bipartisan measure unless the larger package moves in tandem.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said of a Thursday vote: “That would be my hope.”
The House Democratic Caucus is set to meet Thursday morning to discuss Biden’s agenda, a meeting that will take place at a pivotal moment as Democrats see if they can lock in a deal this week.
Biden is expected to attend the meeting, according to a source familiar with the plans, with the purpose of the visit – which hasn’t been officially announced – to convince progressives to vote for the infrastructure bill.
What’s expected to be included in the package
Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California on Wednesday outlined the priorities that Democrats have coalesced behind.
In a letter to fellow Democrats, Pelosi said there is “broad agreement” for universal pre-K and child care, the child tax credit, home health care, workforce development and housing. She also said “great progress has been made” to address gaps in Medicaid coverage at the state level and “we are pleased” with the climate provisions.
But the speaker wrote that “we are still fighting for a paid family and medical leave provision.”
Democrats are now expected to scrap paid leave, discarding one of the central planks of Biden’s proposal as they scramble to strike a deal with holdout senators, according to multiple people familiar with the talks.
The plan’s survival had been in question for several days due to objections from Manchin. Biden’s initial 12-week proposal was scaled back to four weeks in an effort to secure Manchin’s support. But that was rejected, leading to an effort to find a compromise.
That has not succeeded, one of the people said, leading Democrats to push it out of the package as they seek to scale back the proposal’s overall cost and programs to reach a deal.
Resistance to billionaire tax creates problem for Democrats
Amid resistance from Manchin and another Senate Democrat, Virginia’s Mark Warner, over the billionaire tax, Democrats are once again scrambling to find a way to pay for the plan. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrats, said talks were “ongoing” with Manchin to ease his concerns.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with the Democrats and serves as chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, told reporters Wednesday that given the massive impasse on revenue right now, he doesn’t see a path to get a deal on a framework Wednesday or hold a vote on a separate bipartisan infrastructure bill this week.
“I don’t think so,” Sanders said. “I’m not quite clear In terms of the revenue package. Every sensible income option seems to be destroyed.”
Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, insisted the billionaire tax is not dead. “I have not heard any senator say that they don’t believe in billionaires paying their fair share.”
Democrats cannot afford to lose a single vote in the Senate to pass the package, giving Manchin and Sinema outsized influence. The two moderates have taken a lead role in dictating the terms of the negotiations, a dynamic that has angered and frustrated progressives who have watched some of their key priorities scaled back or cut from the proposal entirely.
A meeting Tuesday night with Manchin at the White House yielded no significant breakthrough on Biden’s economic package, leaving it unclear whether any deal can be reached imminently, two sources familiar with matter told CNN. White House officials are back on Capitol Hill on Wednesday in an effort to find a way forward.
Top Democrats push for a deal and vote on infrastructure bill
Pelosi said on Wednesday that Democrats are “close to agreement” on the larger spending package and announced that a procedural step will take place on Thursday in a bid to show forward momentum.
“I have asked the Rules Committee to hold a hearing tomorrow, October 28, to advance this spectacular agenda,” Pelosi wrote in her letter to Democrats.
That does not mean an agreement will be ready by that time, however, and it is not yet clear exactly what will happen when the committee meets.
If there is no deal and no bill text by Thursday, the committee may take witness testimony on the proposed legislation in an effort to show progress, even if they are still negotiating the policy and don’t have a bill yet.
Hoyer told CNN that he hoped one person could change progressives’ minds: Biden.
“I think it’s gonna be necessary for the President to look them in the eye and say – or communicate with them, if not here physically – that ‘I believe, having talked to Manchin, having talked to Sinema, that if this framework is passed, they will pass it in the Senate,’ ” Hoyer said. “I think that’s gonna be necessary.”
But Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said, “I don’t think so,” when asked if Biden could change her position against voting down the infrastructure bill if it comes for a vote tomorrow with the larger bill still unfinished.
On Wednesday, Manchin also called for a vote on the infrastructure bill.
“We need to move forward, the President has made that very clear,” he said. “He wants to move forward, and we owe it to the President to move forward. Take a vote on this, on the infrastructure bill.”
The West Virginia Democrat also expressed optimism they can get an agreement on a framework, though he cautioned final action on legislation would take much longer on the larger bill.
“We’re not doing everything today,” Manchin said Wednesday. “The Senate’s going to take time. We’re basically trying to agree to a framework.”
Manchin expresses concern over paid leave and Medicare expansion
He also raised concerns about insolvency and how to keep social programs funded when asked about expanding Medicare to cover dental, vision and hearing and new paid family leave policies, both of which have been top priorities for progressives.
“I am truly absolutely concerned about the deficit of our country,” Manchin said when asked about Medicare expansion, “I’m concerned about the insolvency of the trust funds. In good conscience I have a hard time increasing basically benefits which all of us can agree ‘oh love to have, this love to have that when you can’t even take care of what you have.”
“I’ve been very clear – to expand social programs when you have trust funds that aren’t solvent or going insolvent, I can’t explain that. It doesn’t make sense to me. I want to work with everyone as long as we can start paying for things, that’s all. I can’t put this burden on my grandchildren,” he said.
This story has been updated with additional developments Wednesday.
CNN’s Phil Mattingly, Kristin Wilson, Lauren Fox, Morgan Rimmer, Daniella Diaz and Kaitlan Collins contributed to this report.