Sanders, Manchin Clash Over Medicare Expansion With Days Left Until Spending Bill Deadline

Senators Bernie Sanders and Joe Manchin sparred over whether Medicare expansion of dental, vision and hearing will stay in the Democrats' spending bill as the tentative October 31 deadline for it to pass approaches.

Moderate and progressive Democrats have debated for months over the specifics of how to best tackle two infrastructure bills. A $1.2 trillion bill—which passed the Senate in August—contains funding for traditional infrastructure including roads and bridges, while a larger bill funds "human infrastructure" including fighting climate change and expanding healthcare.

Moderates have pushed for the bipartisan bill to be voted on alone, while progressives say it needs to be tied to the larger human infrastructure bill.

Progressives, including Sanders, a Vermont independent who serves as the chair of the Senate Budget Committee, have pushed for Medicare expansion to be included in the larger reconciliation bill.

"The expansion of Medicare to cover dental, hearing and vision is one of the most popular and important provisions in the entire reconciliation bill. It's what the American people want. It's not coming out," Sanders tweeted Saturday.

But on Monday, Manchin, a centrist from West Virginia, told CNN reported Manu Raju that he remains opposed to including it in the final bill, saying that Medicare needs to be "stabilized" before it can be expanded.

"If we're not being fiscally responsible, that's really concerning," he said.

Still, he remained optimistic that a framework for the bill would be reached this week. He has met with progressives to try to piece it together.

"I think a framework should be," he said.

President Joe Biden has also cast doubt that Medicare expansion will be included. He said in a CNN town hall last Thursday that he believed the policy is a "good idea" but acknowledged opposition from Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema, another centrist Democrat from Arizona.

Democrats aim to pass the human infrastructure bill through a budget process known as reconciliation. In an evenly-split Senate, they cannot afford to lose either senator's vote.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has set an October 31 deadline to pass the $1.2 trillion bill, which progressives have vowed to not support unless it is passed alongside the reconciliation bill.

Moderates and progressives have disagreed over what should be included in the bill, as well as how much it will cost. Progressives had pushed for a $3.5 trillion price tag, but it will likely fall between the $1.9 and $2.2 trillion range.

In addition to Medicare expansion, Manchin has also raised concerns about the bill's climate provisions and has called for means-testing benefits to reduce the cost of the bill.

Meanwhile, Sinema has said she opposes allowing Medicare to lower prescription drug prices and raising taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals to pay for the package.

Newsweek reached out to the offices of Senators Manchin and Sanders for comment.

Senator Joe Manchin
Senator Joe Manchin, pictured above, said he does not support Medicare expansion being included in the Democrats’ infrastructure plan, putting him at odds with Senator Bernie Sanders. Senator Kyrsten Sinema, a centrist Democrat from Arizona, has also opposed the bill. Drew Angerer/Getty Images