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Spending Battle Divides Democrats, Manchin Won't Give in to Biden-Sanders $3.5 Trillion Price Tag

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), left and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). (AP Photos: J. Scott Applewhite/Darron Cummings, File)

It's Democrats versus Democrats in the latest battle over President Joe Biden's budget in Washington.

With limited time to complete their $3.5 trillion budget, Senate Democrats are fighting among themselves over the enormous spending proposal.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a self-proclaimed socialist who was given control of the Senate Budget Committee, said, it's now or never. But the Biden-Sanders cradle to grave government spending plan has hit a snag.

Moderate Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) says they shouldn't rush it through, saying he won't support even half of Biden's plan for social and environmental spending.  And he explained that Congress should be dealing with the concerns facing the economy.

"We have the unknown and the unknown is everything you've been talking about: COVID, what's going to happen with COVID, what it's going to do to the economy; no one's talking about inflation or debt, and we should have that as part of the discussion," Manchin said. 

With congressional committees working toward the target of Wednesday to have the bill drafted, Manchin made clear his view, in a series of television interviews, that there was "no way" Congress would meet the late September goal set by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for passage.

Manchin says Congress instead should focus on passing the bipartisan infrastructure bill designed to upgrade roads, bridges, ports, energy, and broadband internet.

It's the hefty price tag for the social programs that have the West Virginia senator most concerned. He urged a "strategic pause" on the legislation earlier this month to reconsider the cost. He also described the timing as unrealistic. 

"I cannot support $3.5 trillion," Manchin said. 

"We should be looking at everything, and we're not," he said. "We don't have the need to rush into this and get it done within one week because there's some deadline we're meeting, or someone's going to fall through the cracks."

When asked repeatedly about a total he could support, Manchin said, "It's going to be $1, $1.5 (trillion)." He later suggested the range was based on a modest rise in the corporate tax rate to 25%, a figure he believes will keep the U.S. globally competitive.

"The numbers that they're wanting to pay for and the tax changes they want to make, is that competitive?" he asked. "I believe there's some changes made that does not keep us competitive."

Sanders says the budget bill, which includes new programs expanding health care, education, and child care, should get preference.

Manchin says the House should focus for now on passing the nearly $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill which the Senate has already agreed to pass. But liberal Democrats have threatened to withhold their support until the larger $3.5 trillion spending bill is passed with it. 

Sanders feels he has already compromised enough, noting that he and other liberal members of Congress had initially urged an even larger package amounting to $6 trillion. 

"I don't think it's acceptable to the president, to the American people, or to the overwhelming majority of the people in the Democratic caucus," Sanders said. "I believe we're going to all sit-down and work together and come up with a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill which deals with the enormously unmet needs of working families."

It's not just Manchin who's concerned. Many moderate Democrats have expressed concerns over the huge price tag of the bill, and it seems increasingly unlikely that the party will be able to pass a bill spending $3.5 trillion.

Democrats are already talking about a new plan which includes higher taxes.

Meanwhile, Republicans call the President's spending plan "reckless."

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