Manchin outlines main concerns over Biden agenda but says deal possible by Thanksgiving
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Manchin outlines main concerns over Biden agenda but says deal possible by Thanksgiving

Sen. Joe Manchin said Tuesday that he has chief concerns that will need to be addressed in order to secure his vote for the $1.75 trillion economic package — climate change, taxes, Medicare and immigration — while also expressing new optimism that a deal could ultimately be reached that would win his support on President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda.

“If you resolve all those, you should be able to come to an agreement,” Manchin told CNN, offering new insight into his demands during a high-stakes period for his party.

And in a hopeful sign for Democrats, Manchin didn’t rule out the ambitious time frame that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer laid out earlier Tuesday: putting the bill on the chamber floor during the week of November 15.

Manchin, who hours earlier had said it would take “quite a while” to get a deal, said Tuesday evening: “We have all next week. We’re going to work into it next week — as they are working. So if everyone works real hard, I’ve said, we can get it done before Thanksgiving. We’re going to get something done.”

The comments are key because Manchin remains the most critical voice who can determine the fate of Biden’s agenda. That’s because there is growing expectation that the other moderate holdout, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, will ultimately vote for the bill based on public and private comments she has made in recent days.

But Manchin has raised far more concerns than any other senator. And he held a news conference Monday to publicly cast doubt on the emerging deal while warning that he could ultimately vote against it, as he castigated budget “gimmicks” he said hid the true cost of the proposed expansion of the social safety net. He said he has not spoken to Biden since those remarks but has been in contact with White House officials.

On Tuesday, Manchin held private meetings with House Democrats and lunched with his Senate colleagues, some of whom were venting their frustration at the inability to close the deal with the West Virginia Democrat.

“Sacrifice is a shared value,” said one Senate Democrat, recounting the message that was delivered to Manchin at lunch as he listened to his colleagues.

Key issues remain

In the Tuesday interview, Manchin indicated he was concerned about provisions in the bill to deal with the undocumented immigrants in the United States.

Democrats are pushing for changes to the troubled immigration system, with the Build Back Better bill earmarking $100 billion for that purpose. Some of the proposed changes, which have not been finalized, include: allowing immigrants who have lived in the US for more than 11 years the opportunity to apply for permanent residence; boosting the number of immigrant visas that are available while reducing the backlog of green cards; and increasing the number of visas for high-skilled workers needed by the technology sector and other industries.

Complicating the Democrats’ efforts on immigration are the strict rules of reconciliation that are enforced by the Senate parliamentarian, who has already rejected two proposals from them. Top Democrats are still hoping to persuade her to accept what they call their “Plan C” on immigration.

Discussions are now underway to Manchin on board behind a revised immigration proposal that narrows the provision, Democratic sources said.

“My heart bleeds for all these people that have worked hard and have been here for the right reasons,” Manchin said when asked about his concerns over the issue. “I’m just learning more about it all the time. I haven’t seen it in writing, but I sympathize with all those who represent people who’ve had a hard time and we’re just trying to find a pathway forward.”

Manchin also seemed to take issue with how the bill would be financed — through a range of changes in the tax code but without the rate increases for high earners and corporations, which were dropped because of Sinema’s opposition.

“The whole thing that we’re doing right now should be fixing our tax code, which we all voted against in 2017,” he said, referring to the tax law enacted under then-President Donald Trump.

Manchin said he wants to “make sure that we don’t try to unintentionally force people into inversions again so people leave our country or (force) companies to be domiciled elsewhere.”

Manchin, who hails from a coal-producing state, helped thwart efforts by liberals to include a new electricity standard in the bill to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% over the next decade. He said Tuesday that discussions were still underway over the various climate change provisions in the proposal, which offers $550 billion for programs to combat climate change.

“I’m all for all the incentives that we’re using in tax credits, to try to find a new generation of clean energy,” Manchin said. “But on the other hand, I want to make sure that we have the ability to provide the energy this country demands, and depends on, should we get this.”

Manchin added: “I’m relying on people, experts and people that have that knowledge to say this is feasible or this is aspirational.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Manchin made clear that he was not supportive of the proposed expansion of Medicare to include hearing coverage, arguing it would hurt the solvency of the entitlement program.

“I’m not for any expansions that has a trust fund that is insolvent,” he said.

But Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent of Vermont, has said that an expansion of Medicare — to potentially also include vision and dental coverage — is a redline for him.

Asked if those two views are bridgeable, Manchin said Tuesday evening: “I don’t know. We’ll have to see. That’s what negotiations are. That’s why we’re a deliberative body.”

This story and headline have been updated with additional information.

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