Biden Gets Frank About Status of Spending Bill

Manchin, Sanders clashed in closed-door meeting on 'social economy' bill
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 22, 2021 7:05 AM CDT
Biden Says Big Cuts Are Being Made to Spending Bill
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders talks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

According to GovTrack's 2020 report card, Sens. Joe Manchin and Bernie Sanders are 46 places apart on the politically right-to-left scale, with Manchin at 54 and Sanders at 100. Two senators tell Axios that the men were just as far apart during a heated closed-door meeting on the Democrats' social spending bill Wednesday. Sen. Jon Tester says Manchin said he was "comfortable with zero" while Sanders insisted the package should be $3.5 trillion. Sen. Chris Coons says that during the "vigorous" discussion, Sanders also said "$6 trillion."

President Biden said at a CNN town hall Thursday night that a deal is close but he acknowledged that cuts were being made to secure the votes of Manchin and fellow centrist Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. Biden said he doesn't believe there are enough Democratic votes to raise the corporate tax rate, a move Sinema opposes. "When you’re president of the United States, you have 50 Democrats—every one is a president. Every single one. So you gotta work things out," Biden said, per the AP. The president said free community college, which Sinema and Manchin oppose, is also no longer in the reconciliation bill, which has been pared down to around $2 trillion.

Biden said the bill's 12 weeks of paid family leave have been cut to four weeks, and expanding Medicare for dental and vision benefits, a key Sanders priority, will now be a "reach" because of Sinema and Manchin's opposition, Axios reports. The president also acknowledged that climate change provisions are being taken out of what he called the "social economy" bill due to Manchin's opposition, per CNN. Biden said discussions are now down to four or five issues—and he praised the holdouts for their negotiating skills, Politico reports.

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"Joe’s not a bad guy. He’s a friend," he said of Manchin. He described Sinema as "smart as the devil" but added that she "will not raise a single penny on taxes for the corporate side and or on wealthy people" when it comes to the top tax rates. "Look, I was a senator for 370 years," Biden quipped. "I was … relatively good at putting together deals." The AP adds that in terms of which taxes would help pay for the package, the new approach that seems to be gaining steam abandons the idea of reversing Trump-era tax cuts and would instead involve taxing billionaires' stock gains. (More spending bill stories.)

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