US senator issues new warning over cost of Biden spending
Centrist Senate Democrat Joe Manchin flexed his political muscle Sunday, warning the White House and US lawmakers returning from summer break that he could doom President Joe Biden's immense $3.5 trillion spending package unless they hit the brakes and forge a compromise.
Washington has spent the last few weeks consumed with geopolitical unrest including America's chaotic exit from Afghanistan, as well as the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
But Capitol Hill returns to work this week focused on the domestic agenda, and in a series of talk show appearances West Virginia's Manchin sounded the alarm about overspending and rushing what Democrats see as the most consequential public investment proposal in generations.
"What's the urgency?" Manchin said on CNN show State of the Union, stressing that tens of billions of dollars in aid has yet to be spent from the massive federal injections last year and early 2021 to help the economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer recently said he will move "full speed ahead" on the bulk of Biden's Build Back Better plan.
The historic legislation would expand safety net programs like Medicare, fund sweeping climate change measures, extend child tax credits and provide two years of free community college.
Manchin delivered Schumer a blunt wake-up call. "He will not have my vote on 3.5," Manchin said, suggesting he might be more amenable to a $1.5 trillion price tag and adding that lawmakers should slow down and re-assess the bill.
"There's not a rush," he said on NBC show Meet the Press. "Don't you think we ought to debate a little bit more, talk about it, and see what we've got out there?"
The Senate has already approved a roughly $1 trillion infrastructure bill to upgrade the nation's roads, bridges, ports and water pipes, which won the support of all Democrats and 19 Republicans.
But Republicans are united against the larger human infrastructure bill, warning it would balloon the national debt and lead to dangerous inflation hikes.
A no vote from a single Democrat in the 50-50 Senate would effectively kill the proposal.
That gives Manchin - and fellow centrist Senate Kyrsten Sinema, who has also expressed opposition to a $3.5 trillion plan - extraordinary leverage over a process that can ill-afford hiccups if it is to win support from all corners of the Democratic Party.
That is already a major challenge. Several House of Representatives progressives have said they will oppose the infrastructure bill if the larger spending package is not fully funded at $3.5 trillion.
Far-left Senate Democrat Bernie Sanders, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, expressed support for the strategy, and blasted as "absolutely not acceptable" Manchin's threat to doom the bill.
"I don't think it's acceptable to the president, to the American people or to the overwhelming majority of the people in the Democratic caucus," Sanders told CNN, adding the huge public investments were crucial for "the enormously unmet needs of working families."
The infrastructure bill and the larger budget plan have been inextricably linked since negotiations began, he insisted, and "it would be a terrible thing for the American people if both of those bills fail."