Manchin says he ‘never walked away’ as Democrats push spending deal

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COMMENTARY

With an elusive deal on new spending in hand, Senate Democrats began finalizing their economic package Thursday, hoping they may be able to enact a centerpiece of President Biden’s agenda as soon as next week. .

The new, urgent push toward a vote came a day after the party reached what once felt like an impossible breakthrough: an agreement between Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) and Sen. Joe Manchin III (DW .Va. ) for a bill that would lower health care costs, fight climate change, reduce the deficit and overhaul the U.S. tax code.

Now at 725 pages of legislative text, Democrats have eagerly embraced the size and scope of the measure, which is far less than the more ambitious, roughly $2 trillion proposal the House passed last year. But a wide range of party lawmakers appeared ready to embrace the new deal anyway, having seemingly finally put months of acrimonious disagreements with Manchi behind them.

“It doesn’t include everything that people wanted in the previous package,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). “But compared to where we thought we were 48 hours ago, I mean, that’s light years — light years — ahead.”

The bill includes the largest investment in the fight against climate change in US history, aimed at boosting clean energy technology, even as it provides some of the support Manchin sought for fossil fuels. It also aims to lower health care costs, particularly through changes to Medicare that could lower the prices of some prescription drugs for seniors. Speaking to reporters later Thursday, Schumer announced that Democrats plan to add other elements aimed at insulin pricing.

To cover its costs, the bill aims to strengthen the Internal Revenue Service to pursue tax fraud by imposing a minimum tax on corporations, targeting profitable firms that pay nothing to the US government. And it raises more than $300 billion that could be used to reduce the federal deficit.

Speaking at the White House, Biden sounded an optimistic note about her prospects. While the new proposal, called the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, leaves out many of his original, core priorities, the president described it as a set of investments that put the United States on “sounder economic footing.” .

“I know sometimes it can seem like nothing gets done in Washington. Government work can be slow, frustrating and sometimes infuriating,” Biden said, acknowledging the arduous discussions that led to the deal.

“We’re facing some of our biggest problems,” he continued, “and we’re taking a giant step forward as a nation.”

What’s in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022

The success or failure of the Democrats’ efforts now depends on whether the often-divided party can stay united. To advance the bill, Schumer intends to use a special tactic that will allow lawmakers to pass it with 51 votes — instead of the 60 that would be needed to overcome a guaranteed Republican defect.

However, as of late Thursday, some Democrats had yet to offer their views on the bill. That included Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), a moderate who has raised similar fiscal concerns as Manchin in the past. Sinema’s aides said she will continue to review the legislation, which includes new taxes that some Democrats fear she may not support.

Asked about Sinema’s silence, Schumer told reporters at a news conference that Democratic leaders are “giving everyone time to review the text.”

Other challenges abound, including the dangerous threat of a resurgent coronavirus, which this week has kept a number of Democrats — including Manchin — away from Washington. Another top Democrat, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), has been out for weeks recovering from hip surgery. Whatever the cause, Senate Democrats can’t afford even one sick or absent member next week, or they could be stymied in moving their bill.

“Obviously, Covid is a big hurdle to overcome in getting out the vote,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). “We will work with all these difficulties. We will overcome any obstacle because we have to make it.”

Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) braced herself for the difficult task of holding together her slim majority. In an encouraging sign, however, a broad group of lawmakers offered early praise for Manchin’s new deal. Their comments were significant given that the chamber had passed a broader overhaul of the nation’s health care, education and immigration laws last year — a bill known as the Build Back Better Act that Manchin’s opposition essentially killed him.

“I think it’s an extremely positive development,” said the rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN.Y.), adding that “the progress on climate far outweighs some of the negatives.”

The deal reached between Schumer and Manchin is a much more comprehensive plan than Manchin said he was willing to support just two weeks ago. At the time, he informed Democrats that he could not join their pursuit of billions in new investment to fight global warming, financed in part through tax increases, for fear it would worsen inflation as prices rise.

Manchin then called on his party to focus on health care if they hope to act in July, or wait another month until new economic indicators arrive. But the senator on Thursday shared new details of his thinking, telling reporters that he continued to work with Schumer behind the scenes — without Biden’s involvement — in hopes that Democrats could satisfy his fiscal concerns.

“You all may be surprised, but there should be no surprise, because I’ve never walked away from anything in my life,” Manchin told reporters.

The breakthrough came in part after Manchin made sure fossil fuels are “recognized as a driving force and player in this piece of legislation,” he said during an appearance on MetroNews Talkline, a local West Virginia radio show. For one thing, Manchin secured support from Biden, Schumer and Pelosi for an upcoming measure that would ease permitting around new energy production.

“I wasn’t backing away from making sure we had a strong energy portfolio,” Manchin said.

The Senate deal may be the most important climate bill yet

And the senator said he told his staff to “clean” the bill of potentially inflationary measures, maintaining as he has for months that the party’s proposed spending could worsen the nation’s battle with inflation. That led leading Democrats to drop some of the initial proposed tax increases. Their final deal imposes a new corporate minimum rate, targeting large multinational firms that pay nothing to the US government, but Manchin said it would not prove “inflammatory”.

“It’s really going to be about reducing inflation,” he said.

As Manchin spoke, Schumer earlier Thursday tried to rally his caucus. In a private meeting, he highlighted the rare opportunity before his party after serving in the minority in Washington for many years, according to a Democratic aide who attended the meeting and spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the closed-door conversation.

When they were out of power, Democrats discussed at length ways to lower health care costs, lower the price of medicine and fight climate change, Schumer said. Now the majority leader said the party has a chance to transform those ideas into law and had to seize the moment quickly, the aide recalled.

“For years — even decades — many in Washington have promised to address some of the biggest challenges facing our nation, only to ultimately fail to deliver,” Schumer told reporters.



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