Sen. Joe Manchin Holds Back Support for Social-Spending Bill

Source: By Eliza Collins, Wall Street Journal • Posted: Wednesday, December 8, 2021

West Virginia Democrat says at WSJ’s CEO Council Summit that he is wary of the government putting more money into the economy

WASHINGTON— Sen. Joe Manchin declined to commit to voting for Democrats’ roughly $2 trillion social-policy and climate package, citing concerns about inflation and the length of programs, weeks before the Christmas deadline party leaders are racing to meet.

Mr. Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, made the remarks during The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit at a pivotal moment for Democrats in Washington—and one where he has been a key figure. Because Senate Democrats are using a special budget maneuver to pass their education, healthcare and climate package without any GOP support, they can’t lose a single senator from their own party.

Mr. Manchin has supported the other two pillars of President Biden’s agenda this year. But the senator, who represents a state former President Donald Trump won by 40 points in 2020, continues to express concern about the bill’s impact on inflation and the deficit.

“The unknown we’re facing today is much greater than the need that people believe in this aspirational bill that we’re looking at,” Mr. Manchin said Tuesday. “We’ve gotta make sure we get this right. We just can’t continue to flood the market, as we’ve done.”

“We’ve done so many good things in the last 10 months, and no one is taking a breath,” he said.

Democrats say the package is fully paid for and point to reports from Moody’s Investors Service and others projecting no major inflation impact. Republicans have attacked the bill as wasteful and said it could fuel inflation.

Senators are currently discussing with the nonpartisan parliamentarian what provisions can comply with the budget maneuver, according to aides, putting some immigration- and drug-pricing-related provisions in peril. When that process will be complete isn’t clear.

Even if it passes the Senate, the legislation is expected to be different than the House-approved version and would need to be sent back to the House for final passage before Mr. Biden can sign it into law.

Mr. Manchin and Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema had expressed concerns about the size and funding mechanisms of the bill, prompting Democrats to slim it down and make changes in the hopes of earning their support. Still, neither senator has committed to voting for the legislation.

Mr. Manchin also criticized the Biden administration’s vaccine rules for private employers and is expected to side with Republicans during a vote as soon as this week to nullify the mandate. Republicans are using a Senate maneuver to force a vote with a simple majority, so Mr. Manchin’s support along with Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.) and every Republican will pass the bill out of the Senate.

However, Democrats would have to join with Republicans to force a vote in the House, and it isn’t clear that will happen. Even then, Mr. Biden isn’t expected to sign the legislation, if it passed out of the House.

“I basically am 1,000% in favor of the federal government having a mandate [for employees]…private businesses, no,” Mr. Manchin said. “I don’t think the government has to make every decision for the private sector, you know. You’ve been doing quite well without us.”

Despite his willingness to side with Republicans, Mr. Manchin said he had no plans to leave the Democratic Party.

“I’m caught between the two, but the bottom line is, you have to be caucusing somewhere,” he said.

Write to Eliza Collins at eliza.collins+1@wsj.com.

Corrections & Amplifications
Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) represents a state former President Donald Trump won by 40 points in 2020. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said 2022. (Corrected on Dec. 7.)

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