Joe Manchin Supports First Step in $3.5T Infrastructure Bill, No Promises on Full Measure

Sen. Joe Manchin said he would vote for the budget resolution for the $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill "out of respect for my colleagues." However, the moderate congressman stated that he wasn't "making any promises" about his plans to support the spending package in the fall, the Associated Press reported.

A vote from every Democrat in the Senate, which is split 50-50 along party lines, as well as a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris, would be needed for the budget's approval. This passage needs to happen before lawmakers can begin drafting a larger bill, likely in fall, that would detail tax and spending goals for the package, the Associated Press reported.

While Manchin indicated that he intended to back the budget, he also pointed out that any climate change plans included in the follow-up bill would need the approval of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that he chairs. Manchin serves as senator for West Virginia, which has a reliance on energy production and mining, the Associated Press reported.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Joe Manchin Backs Infrastructure Budget
Sen. Joe Manchin said he would back the budget of the infrastructure bill "out of respect for his colleagues." Manchin prepares to chair a hearing in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in this Aug. 5, 2021 photo. J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

Progressives are passionate about the $3.5 trillion social and environmental package. Moderates strongly back the separate $1 trillion measure financing highway, water and other infrastructure projects.

Democrats of all stripes know that rejecting the budget would mark a quick derailment of Biden's defining domestic priorities, a stunning, self-inflicted political blow. Their broad support for the fiscal blueprint underscores that each of the party's two competing wings knows it needs the other's backing to enact its top priority.

Asked if his party's factions faced the political version of "mutually assured destruction," liberal Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, said, "I think it's a mutually assured improvement situation for the American people, if we can pull it off." The Cold War tenet helped prevent the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. from launching nuclear weapons at each other.

The Democrats' rallying behind the budget also illustrates another calculation: They know the battle that counts most will come in autumn.

That's when, with almost no margin for error, they'll try translating the budget's broad guidelines into the expansive, $3.5 trillion, 10-year package of specific spending and tax provisions. Besides the evenly divided Senate, Democrats narrowly running the 435-member House will be able to lose no more than three votes to prevail.

Significantly, budget passage would let Democrats move that huge follow-up bill through the Senate by a simple majority, circumventing a Republican filibuster that would require 60 votes to overcome. The budget itself cannot be filibustered.

It's unclear when the House will take up the budget.

Sanders, I-Vt., chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, this week made the progressives' case for the budget blueprint he helped craft.

He said it was time to help working-and middle-class people, "needs that have been neglected for decades." He said the measure's initiatives would be paid for by ending the "obscenity" of allowing some rich people to escape paying federal income tax, boosting levies on the wealthy and on big corporations.

He mocked space-traveling billionaires Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson without naming them, saying they seem "increasingly unconcerned about what happens here on Earth because they're off in outer space."

And in what seemed a plea for pragmatism by his fellow progressives, Sanders acknowledged that the measure falls short of some of his personal goals but would be "a major step forward."

Sanders has said his budget's proposals will include an extension of the recently expanded child tax credit; free pre-kindergarten and community college; new dental, eye and hearing benefits under Medicare; bolstered housing and home health care and efforts to fight climate change by encouraging clean energy.

Another influential progressive and former presidential contender, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is also taking a conciliatory approach.

"No one's going to get everything they want," she said this week. "But we Democrats are all rowing in the same direction."

Also flashing a green light — for now — is Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, a moderate who helped write the bipartisan infrastructure compromise.

"While I support beginning this process, I do not support a bill that costs $3.5 trillion," she said. Her statement suggested she'd back the budget and was leaving herself flexibility to fight later about spending amounts.

"This starts the process," said Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, a moderate who helped craft the bipartisan infrastructure bill and is an influential voice on Sanders' Budget Committee. While he said he had no guarantees about how moderates would vote on the budget, Warner said hopes that the U.S. might curb the pandemic make it time for "a fresh debate about what the social contract ought to look like in this country."

Even so, signs of a fall clash between moderate and progressive Democrats' priorities are unmistakable.

From across the party's ideological divide, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., says there will be "more than enough" progressive votes to block the current infrastructure bill in the House until liberals get the investments they want in the separate $3.5 trillion package.

Ocasio-Cortez spoke last weekend on CNN's "State of the Union."

Bernie Sanders Before Infrastructure Test Vote
In this July 21, 2021 photo, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., talks to reporters as he walks to the senate chamber ahead of a test vote scheduled by Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York on the bipartisan infrastructure deal on Capitol Hill, in Washington. Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo