Key moderate Senator Joe Manchin said fellow Democrats should “hit the pause button” on a $3.5 trillion package incorporating the bulk of President Joe Biden’s economic agenda -- presenting a clear challenge to the effort by party leaders to get the tax-and-spending plan through the evenly divided Senate in the coming weeks.
The West Virginia Democrat, who often splits with his party and works with Republicans, said this week that “runaway inflation” along with national security uncertainty after the troubled U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan necessitates a go-slow approach and possible rethinking of the plan.
“Hit the pause button,” Manchin said at a Wednesday event hosted by the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce. “Let’s sit back. Let’s see what happens. We have so much on our plate. We really have an awful lot. I think that would be the prudent, wise thing to do.”
Manchin’s comments come as Democratic leaders and committee chairs in the Senate and House are working out the specifics of the economic package, with a goal of moving it through Congress in the weeks after lawmakers return from an extended August recess. Manchin is a linchpin vote because Republicans are united in opposition. All members of the Senate Democratic caucus would have to back the measure in order for it to get the 51 votes needed to pass, with Vice President Kamala Harris providing the tie-breaking vote.
The spending package also is facing obstacles in the House. Democrats can only afford three defections in that chamber if Republicans are united in opposition, and some moderate Democrats also are balking at the size of the package being drawn up.
Manchin also called on the Democratic-majority House to pass within a few weeks a Senate-passed $550 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has promised progressives in the chamber that she will marry that legislation with the much bigger Democrat-only tax-and-spending package, although moderates have been promised an infrastructure vote by late September.
Manchin last month voted with other Senate Democrats to help pass a fiscal blueprint that could help enable the broader economic bill to pass the Senate without any GOP support, by short-circuiting the filibuster. However, even then, he didn’t commit to whether he would back a bill as big as $3.5 trillion with inflation rising and the federal debt soaring.
Instead of rushing to spend trillions on new government programs and additional stimulus funding, Congress should hit a strategic pause on the budget-reconciliation legislation. A pause is warranted because it will provide more clarity on the trajectory of the pandemic, and it will allow us to determine whether inflation is transitory or not. While some have suggested this reconciliation legislation must be passed now, I believe that making budgetary decisions under artificial political deadlines never leads to good policy or sound decisions. I have always said if I can’t explain it, I can’t vote for it, and I can’t explain why my Democratic colleagues are rushing to spend $3.5 trillion.
Another reason to pause: We must allow for a complete reporting and analysis of the implications a multitrillion-dollar bill will have for this generation and the next. Such a strategic pause will allow every member of Congress to use the transparent committee process to debate: What should we fund, and what can we simply not afford?
I, for one, won’t support a $3.5 trillion bill, or anywhere near that level of additional spending, without greater clarity about why Congress chooses to ignore the serious effects inflation and debt have on existing government programs. This is even more important now as the Social Security and Medicare Trustees have sounded the alarm that these life-saving programs will be insolvent and benefits could start to be reduced as soon as 2026 for Medicare and 2033, a year earlier than previously projected, for Social Security.
Establishing an artificial $3.5 trillion spending number and then reverse-engineering the partisan social priorities that should be funded isn’t how you make good policy. Undoubtedly some will argue that bold social-policy action must be taken now. While I share the belief that we should help those who need it the most, we must also be honest about the present economic reality.