Manchin deals heavy new blow to Biden's hopes for social spending, climate policy bill

The West Virginia Democrat undercut the president's message while overseas.

A clearly frustrated Sen. Joe Manchin, dealing a new and heavy blow to President Joe Biden's hopes for getting his agenda passed, said Monday that House Democrats should "stop playing games" with the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill and told progressive lawmakers in the lower chamber that "holding the bill hostage" won't earn his support for the $1.75 trillion social spending package.

Stressing his objections by calling an unusual news conference, the West Virginia Democrat suggested it will take much longer to reach a deal -- if even possible -- on Biden's "Build Back Better" package, even as Biden and the White House were hoping for passage this week to back Biden while on his overseas trip.

On Monday, at an international conference on dealing with climate change, he touted the measure's provisions on fighting the problem.

House progressives have repeatedly withheld support for the bipartisan infrastructure bill -- or "BIF" for bipartisan infrastructure framework -- using it as leverage to ensure more of their priorities, many of which Manchin opposes, are included in the social spending and climate policy bill.

"The political games have to stop. Twice now the House has balked at the opportunity to send the BIF legislation to the president," Manchin said, calling for the House to hold an up-or-down vote on the bill. "Holding this bill hostage is not going to work in getting my support for the reconciliation bill."

Monday's remarks from Manchin are especially remarkable, coming with Biden on the world stage and his economic agenda hanging in the balance. Manchin said he's attempting to clarify "mischaracterizations" of his position he said have been made since Biden met with House Democrats last Thursday -- just before heading overseas.

Within minutes, White House press secretary Jen Psaki issued a statement countering Manchin's concerns and stating the Biden White House is "confident" he will go along.

"Senator Manchin says he is prepared to support a Build Back Better plan that combats inflation, is fiscally responsible, and will create jobs," her statement said. "The plan the House is finalizing meets those tests -- it is fully paid for, will reduce the deficit, and brings down costs for health care, child care, elder care, and housing. Experts agree: Seventeen Nobel Prize-winning economists have said it will reduce inflation. As a result, we remain confident that the plan will gain Senator Manchin’s support."

Manchin said he's continuing to work in good faith on finding a compromise reconciliation package but seemed to call out progressives on their lack of willingness to budge.

"It is obvious compromise is not good enough for my colleagues in Congress," Manchin said, referring to the progressives. "It is all or nothing. And the position doesn't seem to change unless we agree to everything. Enough is enough."

Though the administration has repeatedly said the social spending and climate bill costs $1.75 trillion, Manchin said the real cost is actually quite a bit higher, calling much of what he sees in the framework "budget gimmicks" and "shell games."

In order to bring down the overall price tag of the larger bill, Democrats have proposed sunsetting some key programs earlier than first suggested. The Child Tax Credit, for example, would be extended for only one year. Subsidies under the Affordable Care Act would be extended for just three years, and free universal pre-K would be a six-year-long program.

"I would not support a bill that is this consequential without thoroughly understanding the impact it will have on our national debt, our economy and most importantly of the American people."

He repeated his concerns about inflation, the insolvency of social safety net programs and the growing national debt. He's opposed to expansion of Medicare, a key priority for progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders.

"I will not support the reconciliation legislation without knowing how the bill will impact our debt and our economy and our country and we won't know that until we work through the text," Manchin said.

Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal appeared on CNN just moments after Manchin's news conference and said the House is on track to pass both the infrastructure bill and the larger social spending bill as soon as this week.

But getting Sen. Manchin on board to support the social spending bill is all on President Joe Biden, she reiterated multiple times throughout the interview.

"The president said he thinks he can get 51 votes for this bill. We are going to trust him. We are going to do our work in the House and let the Senate do its work, but we're tired of, you know, just ... continuing to wait for one or two people," Jayapal said, referring to Manchin and another Senate Democratic holdout, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

Questioned whether she is having any direct conversations with Manchin to get him on board, Jayapal replied: "I'm letting the president have those conversations."

When asked if she had a response to Manchin's allegations that negotiations have been full of "shell games" and "budgetary gimmicks," Jayapal refused to engage.

"I hope that every senator, including those that want to speak about where we are in negotiations, understands that we are getting ready to pass through the House of Representatives a bill with $555 billion in investing in taking on climate change, bringing down carbon emissions significantly so that we can get to the reductions, goals of emissions that the president is talking about and that the world expects us to see. That's our job," she said.