Despite new reports that conservative Sen. Joe Manchin, a critical swing vote, is only willing to accept up to $1.5 trillion in spending, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer indicated Wednesday that his chamber is “moving full speed ahead” with Democrats’ massive $3.5 trillion reconciliation proposal.
“We’re moving forward on this bill,” Schumer (D-N.Y.) said during a press call that took place days after Manchin (D-W.Va.) publicly urged Congress to “hit a strategic pause” on the budget reconciliation process, which Democrats are using to advance their social spending and climate priorities without Republican support.
“We think getting this done is so important,” Schumer added.
The majority leader’s remarks came as Democratic committee leaders in the House and Senate are racing to formally construct individual sections of what will ultimately become a sprawling legislative package that’s expected to touch a variety of major issues, from healthcare to labor rights to immigration to the climate crisis. On Tuesday, the House Ways and Means Committee unveiled hundreds of pages of legislative text encompassing paid family and medical leave, Medicare expansion, child care, and other Democratic priorities.
With the September 15 deadline to complete the legislation just a week away, progressives are working to overcome efforts by Manchin and other conservative Democrats to shrink the popular $3.5 trillion reconciliation framework that both the Senate and House approved last month.
During Wednesday’s press call, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—chair of the Senate Budget Committee—said the $3.5 trillion resolution is “already the result of a major, major compromise.” In June, as Common Dreams reported at the time, the Vermont senator was pushing for a significantly more ambitious $6 trillion reconciliation package.
“At the very least, this bill should contain $3.5 trillion,” Sanders said Wednesday.
Sanders also raised concerns about the House Ways and Means Committee’s Medicare proposal, which wouldn’t expand dental benefits to seniors until 2028. As the Washington Post reported last week, “Officials with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have said it could take in the range of three to five years to implement new dental benefits.”
“Do I think we should take such a long time to implement the dental provisions? No I don’t,” Sanders said Wednesday.
It’s not clear how Schumer and other Democratic leaders plan to confront Manchin and other right-wing members of their party who are voicing opposition to the proposed $3.5 trillion price tag for the reconciliation bill. Senate Democrats can’t afford to lose a single vote on the package, and House Democrats have just three votes to spare.
As Axios reported late Tuesday, Manchin “has privately warned the White House and congressional leaders that he has specific policy concerns with President [Joe] Biden’s $3.5 trillion social spending dream—and he’ll support as little as $1 trillion of it.”
“Manchin has voiced concerns about Biden’s plan to spend $400 billion for home caregivers,” the outlet noted. “He’s also talking about means testing on other key proposals, including extending the enhanced Child Tax Credit, which provides up to an additional $300 per child per month, free community college, universal preschool, and child care tax credits.”
House progressives, for their part, have threatened to vote down the $550 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill that Manchin helped craft unless a $3.5 trillion reconciliation package is approved simultaneously.
“Both of these bills need to move forward together or neither will,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said in a CNN appearance late Tuesday.
In his remarks to reporters on Wednesday, Schumer expressed confidence that Democrats are ultimately “going to all come together to get something big done.”
“It’s our intention to have every part of the Biden plan in a big and robust way,” Schumer added.
Photo by Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images