Sen. Joe Manchin
(D-W.Va.) wants President Joe Biden
to spend more time attempting to reach a bipartisan infrastructure deal
with Senate Republicans
, even as negotiations teeter on the verge of failure and progressives
urge the White House
to pull the plug.
Manchin's views are critical in a Senate that is evenly divided 50-50. Democrats
cannot move forward unilaterally to pass an infrastructure bill through a special budget process known as reconciliation unless every member of their caucus is on board. For the time being, top Democrats are frozen and at the mercy of centrists like Manchin who want to give bipartisan negotiations more time to play out.
“I don’t know why you need reconciliation,” the West Virginia
Democrat told reporters on Tuesday, expressing hope for a bipartisan agreement.
He also appeared to recognize the power he wields over the process, daring Democrats to move forward without his backing.
“If you think you have it, go for it,” he said, referring to the budget process that would allow Democrats to avoid a Republican filibuster
Senate Republicans are preparing to make a counteroffer to Biden on infrastructure spending this week, bringing new life to talks that appeared to be on the verge of collapse last week. However, that would still fall far short of the White House's revised ask of $1.7 trillion for the infrastructure and jobs
Democrats, for example, want to include investments in “social” infrastructure, such as child care and elder care, and they also want to raise corporate taxes to pay for the bill, both of which Republicans are strongly opposed.
“We are now very far apart,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).
Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of eight senators is working on a separate compromise infrastructure proposal in case talks between Senate Republicans and the White House fall through. The appearance of new negotiators, including Manchin and Sen. Mitt Romney
(R-Utah), does not bode well for ongoing talks involving the Biden administration
“I want to make sure that we don’t interfere with the process that is going on between the White House,” Romney said on Tuesday. “They’re on the front burner, and we’re kind of a back burner backup.”
The flurry of new infrastructure legislation hasn't encouraged some Democratic senators, who are wary of Republicans' willingness to negotiate in good faith, recalling how Republicans dragged their feet in talks with President Barack Obama
's administration over passing the Affordable Care Act
, withholding support until the very end.
When asked how long Democrats should continue to negotiate before resorting to reconciliation, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said, “I think we’re at the point of fish
or cut bait.”
Senator Elizabeth Warren
“The clock is ticking,” Warren said, “and we have to get this done because the need will not go away. There are millions of women at home today who say, ‘I'm out of the workforce because I can't afford child care.'”
Democrats want the infrastructure and jobs package to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in programs such as child care, paid family leave, and education
, all of which they argue are critical to getting people
back to work, as well as a large federal investment to spur the production of electric vehicles. Republicans argue that Congress
should only focus on traditional infrastructural investments.
Manchin appears to agree with the Republican argument more, casting doubt on Democratic plans for a bold infrastructure overhaul to be passed quickly.
“I’m always looking for that moderate, reasonable middle if you can,” Manchin said to reporters on Tuesday. “It might not be as big as they want, and then you have people on the right who don’t want to do that much or do nothing at all, and I probably wouldn’t be there either.”