The White House and Democratic leaders are pushing for an agreement on a draft bill this week, before the president sets off on an overseas trip with a global summit on climate change. While most in the party radiate optimism that they will strike a deal that will unite progressive and moderate factions, Manchin and the White House are still negotiating a top rule, as well as what programs to include and for how long.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who also met with Manchin and Biden on Sunday, said Monday the negotiators are making progress and have only “three to four outstanding issues.”
When asked if he could agree to a $1.75 trillion bill for social spending, Manchin reiterated Monday that he still wants the price tag to remain at $1.5 trillion. Meanwhile, Democratic leaders are still pushing for about $2 trillion after falling from $3.5 trillion, a climb that will no doubt require major cuts on specific policy proposals.
The flurry of negotiations comes as House leaders vote Wednesday on the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which they want to pass before federal funding for surface transportation expires Oct. 31. But to get that vote, they need a cadre backed by Manchin and the second centrist holdout, Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), over the next 48 hours.
A spokesman for Sinema said the senator “continued talking all weekend and progress is still being made.” Sinema has worked with Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on proposals that would bring revenue to the wealthy and corporations without raising tariffs for corporations or high-income earners.
Senate Democrats are expected to introduce a so-called billionaire tax this week, a proposal that Manchin agreed to.
“I basically support anyone who pays their share of taxes,” Manchin said Monday. “We all have a different view on that. But in terms of taxes, I think companies should pay at least a minimum if you’re doing business in the United States.”
Without an agreed outline for the social spending plan, the House progressives will line up against the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which wouldn’t bode well for the party ahead of next week’s Virginia gubernatorial election.
When asked if a deal could be reached on Wednesday, Biden told reporters it could happen “by the grace of God and the goodwill of neighbor.” would be very positive to get it done before the trip.”
Over the weekend, paid family leave and Medicare benefits for vision, dentistry and hearing may have been on the chopping block, amid opposition from Manchin and resistance from Sinema in some respects. Manchin did not provide details of specific concerns about the party’s proposed paid-leave program, but he said Monday he is still working to reach agreement with his colleagues on the bill’s Medicaid provisions.
Manchin told reporters Monday that he is concerned about creating disparities between states that have already expanded Medicaid — including his home state of West Virginia — and states that have not. Expansion states will pay 10 percent of the cost of the expansion, and 12 states have not yet expanded Medicaid coverage.
“The problem I have with that now is that we pay 90/10. So 10 percent is paid by all states. For states that stand and are rewarded 100 percent is not fair,” Manchin said.
The Medicaid aid in the bill is a top priority for House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (DS.C.) and Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), who come from states where hundreds of thousands of poor people could enroll in the program. That amounts to a tangible victory that she and other Democrats in the red state can campaign for next year.
But even lawmakers from states that would benefit from the Medicaid expansion have complained about the details of the policy, fearing that extending it for just a few years will give a future GOP congress ample opportunity to let it expire. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) expressed concern about “everything that makes these uninsured poor people, who have few supporters, fall off a cliff and have to go through this all over again.”
In addition to explaining his stance on Medicaid, Manchin described his qualms with the Medicare expansion that Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has championed.
Manchin said his “major concern right now” is the current forecast that Medicare will reach a point of fiscal insolvency by 2026, complicating the path to expansion.
“Healthcare and Social Security are a lifeline for people in West Virginia, most people in the entire country,” he told reporters. “You have to stabilize that before you look at the actual expansion, so if you’re not fiscally responsible that’s really worrying.”
Another huge problem for many Democrats, both progressives and centrists, is allowing the federal government to negotiate drug prices in some way. One idea under discussion is that Medicare can negotiate prices for a limited number of drugs, similar to the Veterans Affairs system, according to people familiar with the discussions.
The issue is still unresolved and some Democrats fear it could be watered down further.
Alice Ollstein and Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.