Joe Manchin’s opposition to party-line infrastructure bill may derail early Democratic efforts to capitalize on Biden stimulus

Joe Manchin
Sen. Joe Manchin. Leigh Vogel/Pool via AP, File
  • Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia says he won’t support an infrastructure bill without GOP support.
  • It may set back Democratic efforts to follow President Joe Biden’s stimulus with more big spending.
  • House Democrats have already started considering reconciliation methods for coming spending.
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Sen. Joe Manchin’s recent comment that he wouldn’t support an infrastructure bill without any Republican support could represent a blow to early Democratic efforts to capitalize on the expected passage of a $US1.9 ($2) trillion stimulus bill.

In an “Axios on HBO” interview on Sunday, Manchin – a moderate Democrat from West Virginia who opposed a minimum-wage increase as part of the stimulus bill – said Democrats needed to work more with Republicans. Nevertheless, Manchin voted with the rest of his party to pass the package almost entirely intact, and President Joe Biden is expected to sign the bill within days.

It passed the Senate on Saturday with zero Republican votes, reflecting their strong opposition to the plan’s size and scale.

Manchin argued on Axios that it would have been possible to get some Republicans to support the relief package if Democrats had been willing to compromise. Instead, they opted to circumvent the GOP using a tactic called reconciliation, a path to enact certain budgetary bills with a simple majority of 51 Senate votes.

Of a follow-up recovery plan, he said: “I’m not going to do it through reconciliation. I am not going to get on a bill that cuts them [Republicans] out completely before we start trying.”

Manchin has also maintained opposition to scrapping the filibuster, another Senate rule that effectively prevents bills from passing with fewer than 60 votes.

The West Virginia Democrat is poised to wield significant influence in a 50-50 Senate. His opposition to a new provision on unemployment insurance in the stimulus plan held up Senate activity for hours on Friday while Democrats scrambled to cut a deal and get his support.

Democrats hold a majority only because of the tiebreaking power of Vice President Kamala Harris. Any Democratic defections would torpedo the legislative push.

A follow-up bill could be as large as $US4 ($5) trillion, Manchin said, as long as it’s paid for by raising corporate taxes to at least 25% and repealing many of President Donald Trump’s tax cuts for the wealthy. The Biden economic platform included a plank to hike corporate taxes to 28% from its current level of 21%.

Still, Rep. Peter DeFazio, the chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, gave a CNBC interview in which he floated the idea of using reconciliation methods to finance parts of the next infrastructure bill. He later indicated the president wanted to move aggressively on an economic-recovery package.

“He wants it to be very big,” DeFazio told reporters after a Thursday meeting at the White House, “and he feels that this is the key to the recovery package.”

Republicans are pressing to be included in infrastructure talks

Republicans are also pressing to be included in negotiations to craft the legislation. Rep. Sam Graves, the ranking GOP member of the House Infrastructure panel, said in a statement that the bill “cannot be a ‘my way or the highway’ approach like last Congress.”

“First and foremost, a highway bill cannot grow into a multitrillion-dollar catch-all bill, or it will lose Republican support,” Graves said. “We have to be responsible, and a bill whose cost is not offset will lose Republican support.”

Graves attended the same White House meeting as DeFazio.

Biden began bipartisan talks on infrastructure spending on February 11, when he met with a group of four bipartisan senators to talk infrastructure. He continued infrastructure discussions with top labor leaders the next week.

The Biden administration has been adamant, though, that plans for the next spending bill won’t be revealed until after the stimulus bill becomes law.