Manchin Says He’ll Support $1.5 Trillion Spending Bill

Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a centrist Democrat, said Thursday that he could not support a social safety net bill of more than $1.5 trillion, less than half the size of the package that President Biden and Democratic leaders have been trying to push through Congress.

In comments to reporters outside the Capitol, Mr. Manchin laid out publicly for the first time the general outlines of what he would be willing to support, putting detail to what he has said for weeks — that he could not vote for a package anywhere near the size of the sprawling $3.5 trillion plan Democrats sketched out in their budget blueprint.

Mr. Manchin’s relative silence on what specific proposals he would eventually support has frustrated liberals who have feared he would ultimately oppose an ambitious plan to expand health care, education, paid leave and anti-climate change programs, coupled with an array of tax increases on the wealthy and corporations.

“I’m willing to sit down and work through that 1.5 and get our priorities,” Mr. Manchin said, standing outside the Capitol as protesters heckled him nearby. Liberal Democrats who want a more expansive bill “can come back and do later, and they can run on the rest of it later. I think there’s many ways to get to where they want to — just not everything at one time.”

It was unclear whether going public with those details would help assuage or further anger liberal Democrats, who have threatened to oppose a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package on track for a House vote on Thursday without substantial progress toward passing the second, far larger bill.

Still, the comments were his most forthcoming about his willingness to support the social policy plan, which Democrats plan to push through using a fast-track process known as budget reconciliation that shields fiscal legislation from a filibuster. Democrats are trying to pass the package over united Republican opposition, meaning they cannot spare even one vote in the evenly divided Senate.

Mr. Manchin said that he had informed Mr. Biden in the last week about his overall spending number and acknowledged that “he would like to have a lot more than that.”

Mr. Manchin spoke out about his position after the news of an agreement enshrining it, signed by both him and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, leaked out on Thursday. The document, dated July 28, says that Mr. Manchin will not support any plan that lacks conditions for any new spending, income thresholds for social programs, accommodations for fossil fuel tax credits and natural gas, or does not devote any revenue exceeding $1.5 trillion to deficit reduction.

The agreement, obtained by Politico and confirmed by two people with knowledge of it, said that Mr. Manchin “does not guarantee that he will vote for the final reconciliation legislation if it exceeds the conditions outlined in this agreement.”

Mr. Manchin’s memo also stipulated a number of demands to help the fossil fuel industry. It said that, in his role as chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, he must have full control over crafting the central climate change provisions of the legislation — all but ensuring that those provisions will be far less ambitious and more fossil-fuel friendly than Mr. Biden had hoped.

In addition, the memo demands that if the legislation were to include extensions of tax credits for wind and solar power, it would not undo tax breaks for fossil fuel producers.

Mr. Schumer, who signed the agreement as he was working to persuade Mr. Manchin to support the budget blueprint, also appears to have scrawled “I will try to dissuade Joe on many of these” underneath his signature.

On Thursday, a spokesman emphasized that Mr. Schumer did not consider it binding.

“As the document notes, Leader Schumer never agreed to any of the conditions Senator Manchin laid out; he merely acknowledged where Senator Manchin was on the subject at the time,” said Justin Goodman, the spokesman.

On Thursday, the office of Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, another moderate holdout on Mr. Biden’s plan, said she would not “negotiate through the press” but had made her priorities and concerns known to Mr. Biden and Mr. Schumer.

Coral Davenport contributed reporting.

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