Manchin Says He’s ‘Engaged’ With Biden on Economic Plan
(Bloomberg) -- Senator Joe Manchin emerged from a phone meeting with President Joe Biden still uncommitted to voting for the president’s economic agenda by year’s end.
“We’re just talking about different iterations, that’s all,” Manchin said about the call. “We’re engaged,” he added.
White House spokesman Andrew Bates called the conversation “constructive.” Biden and Manchin, Bates said, “agreed to follow up with one another in the coming days.”
Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, said earlier Monday that he has growing concerns about rising U.S. debt and soaring consumer prices, after a Friday economic report showed inflation hit the highest annual rate in four decades. His support for Biden’s roughly $2 trillion tax and spending plan is crucial in the Senate, split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats.
Manchin added that Congress also must account for foreign policy challenges that might compete for resources -- including Russia’s troop buildup on the border with Ukraine and China’s threats to Taiwan.
“Inflation is real,” Manchin told reporters. “It’s not transitory. It’s alarming it’s going up, not down. And I think we should be more concerned about geopolitical fallout.”
Biden, speaking to reporters separately on Monday, declined to specify his message to Manchin before their call. He said his objective when speaking with lawmakers generally is to “convince them that what I’m proposing makes sense and it’s not inconsistent with what they believe.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer insists the Senate will pass the sweeping tax-and-spending package before Christmas, but there’s still much work to do and time is running short.
Manchin also said that he still wants a package of about $1.7 trillion, adding that “whatever Congress is considering doing we should do it within the limits of what we can afford.”
He said he’s increasingly concerned about the way Democrats are making some programs in the so-called Build Back Better legislation temporary -- which he says hides their true costs over 10 years.
A Congressional Budget Office analysis requested by Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, showed that Biden’s plan would -- if new and expanded programs are made permanent without new revenue -- cost far more than Democrats say.
The bill would add $3 trillion in deficits over 10 years, the CBO said under the assumptions Graham asked them to use. That compares with $200 billion in deficits added under the CBO score of the bill as written.
The White House and congressional Democratic leaders disputed the premise of the CBO report, arguing that Biden has long said he would only support expanding programs if doing so was fully paid for.
In addition, key pieces of the bill that are still under negotiation include a House-passed provision for four weeks of paid family and medical leave that Manchin opposes.
Also unresolved is an expansion of the federal deduction for state and local taxes, or SALT, which currently has a $10,000 cap. The House-passed version of Biden’s so-called Build Back Better bill lifted the cap on the write-off to $80,000.
Senators Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, and Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, say the House approach is too generous. They are instead looking at limiting the tax break to those under a certain income threshold, but disagree on what that should be.
All Republicans oppose the package, requiring all 50 senators who caucus with Democrats to support it, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote.
The economic program would increase taxes on the wealthy and corporations while providing universal pre-kindergarten schooling, childcare subsidies, climate-change protections, expanded Obamacare health-insurance subsidies, and the ability of Medicare to negotiate prices on some medicines.
Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona had earlier forced the package to shrink from $3.5 trillion. But rather than jettison major planks, Democrats over Manchin’s objections mostly phased out programs earlier, with the intention of extending them later.
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