WASHINGTON (AP) – Senator Joe Manchin hesitated on Monday over his support for President Joe Biden’s sweeping $ 1.75 trillion domestic policy proposal, saying it was instead “time to vote” on a package of $ 1 trillion thinner infrastructure that stagnated amid talks.
The West Virginia Democrat’s announcement comes as Democrats want a signal from Manchin that he will support Biden’s big package. He is one of two main recalcitrant senators whose votes are needed to secure the deal and get it through.
Instead, Manchin pushed back on progressive Democrats, urging them to stop holding the small public works bill “hostage” as negotiations continue on the larger package.
“Enough is enough,” Manchin said at a hastily called press conference on Capitol Hill.
Manchin said he was ready to vote for a final bill reflecting Biden’s big package “that keeps our country moving.” But he said he was “also open to voting against” the end product as he assessed the sweeping social services and climate change bill.
Democrats have been working frantically to complete Biden’s national signing package after months of negotiations, rushing to a possible first round of House votes later this week.
The White House was quick to respond that it remained confident Manchin would support Biden’s plan, and congressional leaders indicated the votes were on track as expected.
“Senator Manchin says he is ready to support a Build Back Better plan that fights inflation, is fiscally responsible and will create jobs,” press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement. “Accordingly, we remain confident that the plan will win the support of Senator Manchin. “
The stakes are high with Biden abroad at a global climate change summit and his party battling in two key governors’ races this week – in Virginia and New Jersey – which are seen as indicators of the political mood of the electorate.
With Republicans staunchly opposed and no votes to spare, Democrats tried to unite progressive and centrist lawmakers around Biden’s grand vision.
Progressives refused to vote on the small public works bill, using it as leverage to try to secure commitments from Manchin and Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, the other key obstacle, for the Biden’s larger bill.
Representative Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., Leader of the Progressive Caucus, said her group was ready to move forward and pass both bills this week in the House. She said she was confident Biden would have the backing needed for a possible Senate move.
“I urge everyone to keep calm,” Jayapal told CNN. “We are preparing to pass the two bills on the President’s agenda through the House.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer both echoed in the White House, suggesting the bills were on track.
Manchin, however, in direct response to the progressives’ tactics, said that “holding this bill hostage will not work to gain my support” for the wider community. He said he “will not support such a big bill without fully understanding the impact” it has on the economy and the federal debt.
Manchin’s priority has long been the small public works bill on roads, highways and broadband projects that had already been approved by the Senate but which are stalled by House progressives as negotiations over wide are in progress.
“This is not the way the US Congress should work,” Manchin said. “It is time for our elected leaders in Washington to stop playing games. “
Biden’s top national priorities have been a battleground between progressive and moderate Democrats for months, and it was not clear whether this week’s schedule for the first House votes could be met.
The $ 1.75 trillion package has far-reaching reach and would provide large numbers of Americans with help paying for health care, education, child rearing, and senior care in their homes. It would also provide some $ 555 billion in tax breaks encouraging cleaner energy and electrified vehicles, the country’s biggest commitment to tackling climate change.
Much of its costs would be covered by higher taxes for people earning more than $ 10 million a year and large companies, which would now face a minimum tax of 15% in an attempt to prevent large companies to claim so many deductions that they end up paying no tax.
Over the weekend, Democrats made significant progress towards adding provisions limiting prescription drug prices to the massive package, two congressional advisers said Sunday. They requested anonymity to discuss the ongoing negotiations.
A senior Democratic official said a proposal under discussion would allow Medicare to negotiate lower prices with drug companies for many of their products. Excludes drugs for which the Food and Drug Administration has granted initial competitive protection, periods which vary but last for several years.
There would be a cap on reimbursable drug costs for seniors under Medicare Part D, the program’s outpatient prescription drug delivery, said the senior assistant, who did not provide a figure. And pharmaceutical manufacturers should pay a rebate if their prices exceed certain markers.
Talks continued and no final agreement had been reached. But the move raised hopes that the party’s 10-year $ 1.75 trillion measure would fulfill the Democratic campaign’s long-standing promise to cut pharmaceutical costs, albeit more modestly than some believe. wished.
Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed to this report.
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