Manchin taps brakes on Biden agenda by warning against overuse of budget tool

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin made it clear Wednesday evening that he opposes the frequent use of the budget reconciliation process, which Democrats have hoped to use in a 50-50 Senate to pass President Joe Biden’s legislative priorities.

Manchin’s position, stated in a Washington Post op-ed, potentially slows Democrats’ ability to push through a sweeping infrastructure package that does not currently have any Republican support. Senate Democrats have eyed using reconciliation to push through their $2 trillion proposal and avoid a filibuster, but that would require all Senate Democrats to get on board.

“If the filibuster is eliminated or budget reconciliation becomes the norm, a new and dangerous precedent will be set to pass sweeping, partisan legislation that changes the direction of our nation every time there is a change in political control. The consequences will be profound — our nation may never see stable governing again,” the West Virginia lawmaker wrote.

The Senate parliamentarian ruled earlier this week that Democrats may amend the budget resolution they used for their Covid-19 relief bill and attach another set of reconciliation instructions to it, two sources familiar with the matter have told CNN. The ruling was a key step for Democrats as they weigh their options for moving infrastructure legislation, potentially giving them a route to pass new legislation without Republican votes.

“I simply do not believe budget reconciliation should replace regular order in the Senate. How is that good for the future of this nation? Senate Democrats must avoid the temptation to abandon our Republican colleagues on important national issues,” Manchin wrote.

“Republicans, however, have a responsibility to stop saying no, and participate in finding real compromise with Democrats.”

Democrats, including Manchin, had used the procedural tool to pass Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid relief plan last month, allowing lawmakers to bypass the Senate’s 60-vote threshold typically required for breaking filibusters and moving legislation forward.

The reconciliation process was set up as part of the 1974 Congressional Budget Act to make it faster and easier to pass legislation related to spending, taxes and debt, because debate on the bills is limited to 20 hours and can be passed on a simple majority vote.

But working legislation through regular order in the Senate, Manchin maintained, is the best governing process that “prevents drastic swings in federal policymaking.”

“We will not solve our nation’s problems in one Congress if we seek only partisan solutions. Instead of fixating on eliminating the filibuster or shortcutting the legislative process through budget reconciliation, it is time we do our jobs.”

White House officials said Thursday morning they are not alarmed by Manchin’s warning, insisting there is still a long road ahead to determine how to get the President’s infrastructure plan through Congress and that they expect months of negotiations before reaching that crossroads.

“We continue to believe there’s a bipartisan path forward on infrastructure,” a senior White House official said. “That’s what we’re working toward.”

This official said the White House expects to spend more time negotiating with Republicans in Congress than they did in the lead-up to the coronavirus relief bill, which not a single GOP lawmaker ultimately supported.

Still, the White House isn’t closing the door on a partisan outcome in Congress.

“His bottom line is we can’t not move forward with infrastructure,” the official said.

Manchin is also the most notable Democrat who has opposed changing Senate rules so a filibuster can be defeated by 51 votes, rather than 60, though Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and New Hampshire Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan also have resisted calls to do away with the filibuster.

That means Democratic ambitions to pass landmark legislation like an expansion of voting access and a major immigration bill will either fall by the wayside or will have to be pared back substantially to win the support of at least 10 GOP senators. Any compromise would have to pass muster in the House, where progressives remain a dominant force.

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