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


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With a long-elusive spending deal newly in hand, Senate Democrats set about finalizing their economic package Thursday, hoping they might be able to deliver on a central piece of President Biden’s agenda as soon as next week.

The new, urgent push toward a vote came a day after the party achieved 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.) on a bill that would lower health care costs, combat climate change, reduce the deficit and revise the US tax code.

Now in possession of 725 pages of legislative text, Democrats eagerly began digesting the size and scope of the measure, which amounts to far less than the more ambitious, roughly $2 trillion proposal that the House adopted last year. But a wide array of party lawmakers appeared ready to embrace the new agreement anyway, having seemingly put months of acrimonious bickering with Manchin finally behind them.

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

The bill includes the largest investment in fighting climate change in US history, aiming to boost clean-energy technology even as it delivers some of the support Manchin sought for fossil fuels. It also aims to lower health-care costs, particularly through changes to Medicare that could reduce some prescription drug prices for seniors. Speaking to reporters later Thursday, Schumer announced that Democrats plan to add other elements that target the price of insulin.

To cover its costs, the bill looks to bolster the Internal Revenue Service to pursue tax cheats while setting a minimum tax on corporations, targeting profitable firms that pay nothing to the US government. And it raises more than $300 billion that can be used to reduce the federal deficit.

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

“I know it can sometimes seem like nothing gets done in Washington. The work of the government can be slow, frustrating and sometimes even infuriating,” said Biden, acknowledging the painstaking discussions leading up to the deal.

“We’re facing up to 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 Democrats’ efforts now depends on whether the often-fractious party can stay united. To advance the bill, Schumer intends to invoke a special tactic that will allow lawmakers to pass it with 51 votes — rather than the 60 that would be needed to overcome a guaranteed Republican filibuster.

By late Thursday, though, some Democrats still had not yet offered their views on the bill. That included Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), a moderate who in the past has raised similar fiscal concerns as Manchin did. Sinema’s aides maintained that she would 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 looming threat of the resurgent coronavirus, which this week has kept a number of Democrats — including Manchin — away from Washington. Another senior Democrat, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), has been out for weeks recovering from hip surgery. No matter the cause, Senate Democrats cannot afford even one ill or absent member next week, or they may be stymied in moving their bill.

“Obviously covid is a major obstacle to overcome in mustering the votes,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). “We’re going to work through all of these difficulties. We’re going to overcome whatever the obstacles are, because we have to get it done.”

In the House, meanwhile, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) readied for the tough task of keeping her own razor-thin majority united. In an encouraging sign, though, a wide array of lawmakers offered early praise for the new deal with Manchin. Their comments proved noteworthy given that the chamber had adopted a more sprawling overhaul to 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.

“I think it is an overwhelmingly positive development,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN.Y.), adding the “progress on climate far outweighs some of the negatives.”

The deal struck between Schumer and Manchin is a far more sweeping plan than Manchin said he was willing to support just two weeks ago. At the time, he informed the Democrats that he could not join their pursuit of billions in new investments to fight global warming, financed in part through tax increases, fearing it would worsen inflation as prices are soaring.

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

“All of you might 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 ensured that fossil fuels are “recognized to be 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 a forthcoming measure that would ease permitting around new energy production.

“I wasn’t shying away from making sure we have a robust energy portfolio,” Manchin said.

Senate deal could be the most significant climate bill yet

And the senator said he told his staff to “scrub” the bill for potentially inflationary measures, maintaining as he has for months that the party’s proposed spending could worsen the country’s battle with inflation. That prompted leading Democrats to drop some of their initial proposed tax increases. Their final agreement does impose a new minimum rate on corporations, targeting major multinational firms that pay nothing to the US government, but Manchin said that would not prove “inflammatory.”

“This is truly going to be around inflation reduction,” he said.

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

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

“For years — decades even — 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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