Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is emerging as the chief obstacle to quick passage of President Biden’s $2.25 trillion infrastructure package that Democrats want to move through Congress sooner rather than later.
Manchin is ramping up discussions with Republicans about what a scaled-down infrastructure package should look like, and some GOP senators are even optimistic that the moderate Democrat can be persuaded to block efforts to raise the corporate tax rate.
That means Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) will likely have to wait for the negotiations to reach some kind of conclusion before moving ahead with the budget reconciliation process, as Manchin is expected to be the critical 50th Democratic vote needed to avoid a GOP filibuster.
Senate Republicans proposed a $568 billion infrastructure counteroffer last week. Now, bipartisan talks on a compromise proposal between $600 billion and $1 trillion are just getting started.
Manchin wants time for the talks to build momentum.
“For the sake of our country, we have to show we can work in a bipartisan way,” he said Monday evening. “I don’t know what the rush is.”
“Stay here a little bit, work a little bit,” he advised colleagues.
But Democrats are getting nervous about an extended timeline and worry that splitting Biden’s infrastructure agenda into two or three pieces of legislation might mean that a substantial part of it gets left behind.
“I’m the most anxious member of the Democratic caucus. I want to get it done and done quickly,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Monday when asked how long Democrats are willing to wait on bipartisan infrastructure talks.
Manchin said over the weekend that he wants to focus on “conventional infrastructure” such as roads, bridges, water projects and expanded broadband internet, and he proposed splitting off about $400 billion in funding for home- and community-based caregivers for the elderly and people with disabilities, as well as billions of dollars for child care.
While Manchin said such priorities are “needed,” he added that doesn’t want to lump too many of them in a broad bill because he thinks it would be tougher to sell to the public.
His remarks dealt a blow to other Senate Democrats who want to pass as large a package as possible and who called the $568 billion Republican proposal “totally inadequate” and a “slap in the face.”
Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat, on Monday said he does not support splitting up Biden’s $2.25 trillion infrastructure package into two pieces.
“Time is not on our side. We have so many things to do,” he said. “Immigration, policing. All of these things are critical elements and we don’t have a lot of time on the calendar.”