Joe Manchin signals major changes needed to gain support for Biden’s safety net plan

At a critical time for the party’s agenda, Manchin spoke with Biden on Monday afternoon as the president sought his support for the plan. But the senator, whose vote is critical to its passage, raises serious concerns, citing problems with the proposal’s reliance on temporary programs and reiterating long-standing concerns about inflation which only intensified. after a report last week showed a key measure of inflation hitting a 39-year-high level.

A spokesman for the senator said in a statement Monday evening that Manchin and the president “have had a productive conversation” and “will continue to speak to each other for the next few days.”

The concerns Manchin raises, however, suggest he needs to see far-reaching changes to the bill, a process that could take weeks or even months if he holds up. But Democratic leaders have rushed to get the long-awaited bill through before Christmas, even though the final proposal is still being drafted and approved by the Senate parliamentarian.

Manchin said Monday evening he was not walking away from the talks. When asked if he thought the bill could be done this year, he replied, “anything is possible” and he is still “engaged” in the discussions.

But the West Virginia Democrat, who has previously accused his party of using “budget gimmicks” in crafting the plan, now opposes the way Democrats structure the legislation, which he says hides the real cost relying on temporary expenses that will likely become permanent.

In a key warning sign, Manchin told CNN the bill should not be based on temporary spending as lawmakers will be pressured to extend them. “I don’t think it’s a fair estimate to say we’re going to spend X dollars, but then we’ll have to depend on the return and find more money… I’m also concerned about paying down the debt,” he said.

Manchin said the bill should be “within what we can afford” – and argued that lawmakers should assess how much it would cost to extend the bill’s temporary programs for 10 years to be ” transparencies “on the actual price of the invoice. Extending the programs would drive up the price.

The Congressional Budget Office recently released a revised score for the plan based on a Republican demand to see how much the bill would cost if a series of provisions were extended for 10 years. The CBO estimated that the version of the legislation without a sunset “would increase the deficit by $ 3 trillion from 2022 to 2031”. The current bill, known as the Build Back Better Act, does not include such extensions of the provisions.

Manchin said the CBO’s new report was “very serious” and that he was “very concerned” about the price. While many Democrats dismissed and played down the CBO’s report, Manchin defended the estimate, another warning sign for his party.

Manchin argued that the office is “non-partisan,” saying, “they’re going to give us the facts whether we like it or not.”

He added: “You might as well watch the whole wax ball if you want,” when asked if he didn’t believe the temporary programs would stay temporary.

Ahead of his conversation with Biden, Manchin said he planned to speak with the president about “what exactly happened on Friday with the CBO score and the inflation reports.”

The senator continued to express serious concerns about rising inflation and the fiscal impact of the proposed $ 1.9 trillion plan to provide support to families, expand access to health care and fight against climate change.

“Inflation is real. It is not transitory,” he said. “It’s alarming. It’s going up, not down. I think that should be something to worry about.”

This story was updated with additional developments on Monday.

CNN’s Anneken Tappe contributed to this report.

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