Manchin Insists On Not Using Reconciliation For Infrastructure Bill — At Least For Now

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 05: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) walks on the senate side of the Capitol Building on Friday, March 5, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
March 8, 2021 11:59 a.m.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is insisting that the next big Biden administration package, centered on infrastructure improvements, not go through the budget reconciliation process right off the bat. 

“I’m not going to do it through reconciliation,” he told Axios in an interview published Monday. “I am not going to get on a bill that cuts them out completely before we start trying,” he added, referring to Republicans.

Senate Democrats just passed the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package through reconciliation, which only requires a simple majority and circumvents the filibuster. No Republicans voted in favor of the package. 

Manchin, a centrist Democrat sometimes jokingly called the Senate majority leader due to his enormous power in the evenly-split chamber, has the leverage to insist that the bill go through normal order. If the infrastructure package needed the support of 10 Republicans along with all the Democrats though, it would likely be a much smaller package, stripped of some of the Biden administration’s priorities. Biden campaigned on infrastructure improvements married to climate change measures, an issue area that tends to invite scorn from Republican lawmakers.

But Manchin seems to be choosing his words carefully. He caveated his remarks to Axios by saying that he won’t endorse going through reconciliation before an attempt to cobble together 60 votes is made — seemingly leaving the door open to reconciliation later if Republicans refuse to cooperate. It would also let him say he tried his best to pull a bipartisan coalition together.

President Joe Biden has started holding meetings to try to establish some bipartisan foundation for the bill with key committee leaders from both chambers. Earlier this month, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki declined to put a price tag on the bill. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), chair of the Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, said after meeting with Biden that it’s possible infrastructure legislation gets broken up into separate packages to get more bipartisan support.

An issue already coming to the fore is how the bill, or bills, will be funded. Republicans, who have pivoted back to supporting budget austerity now that a Democrat is in the White House, are insisting that the bill not cost trillions, as the COVID-19 relief package did. 

Manchin said, in the same Axios interview, that he will start the negotiating process insisting that the bill be paid for entirely through tax increases. He mentioned both raising the corporate tax rate and repealing some Trump administration tax cuts for the wealthy. 

Biden campaigned on an aggressive infrastructure platform, pledging to invest $2 trillion in fixing physical infrastructure like bridges and highways, building climate-resilient homes and expanding broadband internet access.

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