Biden tries to budge Manchin on spending bill

President Biden spoke to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) for the second time in a week on Monday in what is becoming an increasingly desperate last-minute effort to cajole him into voting for a sweeping climate and social spending bill before Christmas.

Manchin told reporters after the call he and Biden had “a nice conversation” and that he is “engaged” with the president.

He said he and Biden “were just talking” about “different iterations” of the legislation.

Asked if the $2 trillion bill could pass by Christmas, Manchin replied, “Anything is possible.”

He declined to say how long the call lasted or what he and the president discussed specifically, and his office released a statement describing the conversation as “productive.” 

“They will continue to talk over the coming days,” it said.

Asked Monday evening if enough progress had been made for him to vote on a motion to proceed to the bill, Manchin replied, “That’s what we’re talking” about.

He said the biggest holdup to moving the bill is getting the legislative text finished.

“They’re going through the scrub, trying to get all the rulings back from the parliamentarian. We haven’t even seen that yet,” he said.

“I just said, [let’s] at least see the bill, see what they write, what’s the final print. That tells you everything,” he added.

A White House spokesman described the call as "constructive" and said the two agreed to follow-up with one another in the days ahead.

Manchin is seen as the key to not only getting the bill through the Senate before Christmas, but to getting the major piece of Biden’s agenda done at all.

The West Virginia senator, who hails from a state that former President Trump easily won in last year’s presidential election, has consistently been the fly in the ointment for Senate Democrats, who must have unity among their 50 members to get Biden’s Build Back Better agenda through the upper chamber.

Democratic senators say Manchin is dragging his feet on proceeding to the bill next week and identify him as the biggest obstacle to getting the legislation done before the expanded child tax credit expires at the end of the month. The nearly $2 trillion bill would extend that credit for a year.

The Biden-Manchin talks suggest the negotiation is getting closer to an end point, but Democratic senators increasingly seem despairing.

One Democratic senator said it’s critical that Biden show more progress in his talks with Manchin, which have yet to yield an agreement on a top-line spending number or the core components of the package.

“We’ve got to close this,” the lawmaker said.

Manchin pumped the brakes on Biden’s bill earlier Monday when he told reporters that the latest inflation numbers suggest rising prices are “not transitory” and “alarming.”

“It’s going up, not down and I think that should be something we’re concerned about,” he added.

Manchin noted the federal debt is fast approaching $30 trillion and predicted that Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell will “want to make some decisions pretty soon here” about addressing inflation and may have to raise interest rates.  

He said lawmakers need to slow down and study the fast-changing economic and national security environment to “prepare better” before enacting another major spending bill.

He warned the federal government may have to respond to another shock to the economy, perhaps caused by the new omicron variant of the coronavirus or military aggression from China or Russia.

“The unknown right now is very, very great. I want to make sure we can handle it and take care of anything that does come at us,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Monday he is still pressing for a vote before Christmas and noted that Republicans and Democrats will hold bipartisan meetings with the parliamentarian this week to conduct final reviews of the provisions in the bill.

He said committees “have been submitting their final text to the parliamentarian, the congressional budget office and to our Republican counterparts.”

“The work is not yet finished, but we’re working hard to put the Senate in a position to get the legislation across the finish line before Christmas,” he said.

Manchin said Monday he is concerned about a new projection from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which came in response to a request from Senate Republicans, that showed the climate and social spending package would be $4.9 trillion over 10 years

The White House and Democrats have derided the analysis as misleading and for a bill that doesn’t exist, since it assumes various parts of the bill, like the child care credits, will last for 10 years and not be offset with tax hikes or spending cuts. The bill that Democrats are considering only includes a one-year extension of the tax credit, for example.

But Manchin called the analysis “very sobering” and said he would raise the CBO report in his conversation with Biden.

“CBO’s not a Republican or Democrat ... they’re nonpartisan and they’re going to give to us the way the facts [are] whether we like it or not,” he added.

Manchin in September called for Democrats to take a “strategic pause” on passing the Build Back Better Act and in recent weeks has argued there’s no rush for getting the bill done by Christmas.

In mid-November he said he had “a lot of concerns” about trying to get the bill done this month, though he has also said that Schumer is in charge of the schedule.

“I’m not in charge of the calendar. Whenever he thinks we ought to vote, he ought to vote,” he said recently, referring to Schumer.

Last week, Manchin suggested the popular tax credit could be renewed sometime next year and any missed payments could be made up to parents at a later date.

“I’ve never seen a situation where we weren’t able to make up whatever you thought ... would be lost,” he said, adding that getting the bill right is more important than rushing to meet an end-of-year deadline.  

Rank-and-file Democrats, however, have vigorously objected to the idea of postponing Senate passage of the bill until sometime next year.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said waiting until 2022 is “a bad idea.”

“We need to renew the child tax credit now,” she said. “We need to start fighting the climate crisis now. We have talked and talked and talked about what’s in this bill."

“Adding a few more months of talking is not going to change anything. It’s time to vote,” she said. 

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