AFP / Washington
Centrist senate Democrat Joe Manchin flexed his political muscle yesterday, warning the White House and US lawmakers returning from summer break that he could doom President Joe Biden’s immense $3.5tn spending package unless they hit the brakes and forge a compromise.
Washington has spent the last few weeks consumed with geopolitical unrest including America’s chaotic exit from Afghanistan, as well as the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
But Capitol Hill returns to work this week focused on the domestic agenda, and in a series of talk show appearances West Virginia’s Manchin sounded the alarm about overspending and rushing what Democrats see as the most consequential public investment proposal in generations.
“What’s the urgency?” Manchin said on CNN show State of the Union, stressing that tens of billions of dollars in aid has yet to be spent from the massive federal injections last year and early 2021 to help the economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer recently said he will move “full speed ahead” on the bulk of Biden’s Build Back Better plan.
The historic legislation would expand safety net programmes like Medicare, fund sweeping climate change measures, extend child tax credits and provide two years of free community college.
Manchin delivered Schumer a blunt wake-up call. “He will not have my vote on 3.5,” Manchin said, suggesting he might be more amenable to a $1.5tn price tag and adding that lawmakers should slow down and re-assess the bill.
“There’s not a rush,” he said on NBC show Meet the Press. “Don’t you think we ought to debate a little bit more, talk about it, and see what we’ve got out there?”
The senate has already approved a roughly $1tn infrastructure bill to upgrade the nation’s roads, bridges, ports and water pipes, which won the support of all Democrats and 19 Republicans. But Republicans are united against the larger human infrastructure bill, warning it would balloon the national debt and lead to dangerous inflation hikes.
A no vote from a single Democrat in the 50-50 Senate would effectively kill the proposal.
That gives Manchin — and fellow centrist Senate Kyrsten Sinema, who has also expressed opposition to a $3.5tn plan — extraordinary leverage over a process that can ill-afford hiccups if it is to win support from all corners of the Democratic Party.
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