Sen. Joe Manchin urges far-left Democrats to stop holding infrastructure 'hostage'

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Sen. Joe Manchin III said Monday he won’t support President Biden’s $1.75 trillion social-welfare bill until he knows its true cost, and he castigated Democrats’ far-left faction for holding a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package hostage in the meantime.

Mr. Manchin, West Virginia Democrat and a key swing vote for the White House’s legislative agenda, announced at the U.S. Capitol that he would not bow to such extortion by House progressives.

“The political games must stop. As you’ve heard, there are some House Democrats who say they can’t support this infrastructure package until they get my commitment on the reconciliation legislation,” Mr. Manchin said. “Holding this bill hostage won’t work to get my support for the reconciliation bill.”

His announcement raised another roadblock to passing Mr. Biden’s domestic agenda, after months of negotiations. House Democratic leaders had hoped to advance the infrastructure legislation this week.

Mr. Manchin said he is suspicious that Democrats are engaged in “shell games, budget gimmicks” on the larger reconciliation package, the full cost of which hasn’t been scored yet by the Congressional Budget Office.

“To be clear, I will not support the reconciliation legislation without knowing how the bill would impact our debt and our economy and our country,” Mr. Manchin said. “We won’t know that until we work through the text.”

Last week, Mr. Biden announced that after months of delay he had the basis for a deal on his long-sought social welfare and climate-change bill. The $1.75 trillion “compromise framework,” fell far short of the $3.5 trillion that far-left Democrats initially proposed.

Dropped throughout the negotiating process were plans to expand Medicare, provide free community college, and a federal guarantee of 12 weeks of paid leave for every worker. Mr. Biden made the concessions in hopes of bringing moderate Democrats, like Mr. Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, on board.

Since Democrats are planning to push the package through Congress along party lines using budget reconciliation, a process allowing spending measures to pass the 50-50 Senate by a simple majority, Mr. Biden can not afford any disunity.

Far-left Democrats are displeased with that reality, however. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent, said over the weekend that he and others were working overtime to expand the package.

“That bill is still being worked on literally today. It will be worked on tomorrow,” Mr. Sanders told CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I believe we’re making some progress in making it even stronger than it is.”

As part of the effort, far-left lawmakers view the bipartisan infrastructure package as their only leverage.

The $1.2 trillion dollar measure, which Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema helped craft, passed the Senate resoundingly over the summer. Within the House, the measure has hit a wall, mainly consisting of opposition from the 98-member Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Progressive lawmakers are pledging to block the infrastructure deal until moderates in the Senate send the reconciliation bill their way.

“I need a Senate vote. I need a Senate vote,” Rep. Cori Bush, a Missouri Democrat. “Right now, that’s still where I stand.”

The standoff stems from widespread distrust among progressive and moderate Democrats. Far-left lawmakers believe that moderates, like Mr. Manchin, have no ambition to pass the reconciliation bill and are likely to water down or kill it within the Senate.

Mr. Manchin says such tactics amount to political gamesmanship and unwillingness to reconcile ideology with reality.

“While I have worked hard to find a path to compromise, it is obvious compromise is not good enough for some in Congress,” he said. “It’s all or nothing, and their position doesn’t seem to change unless we agree to everything. Enough is enough.”

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